Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lawsuit Attacks Booze, Frat Life

The mother of CU's Lynn ``Gordie'' Bailey, who died of alcohol poisoning, says the suit will help expose dangers of the Greek system.
By Howard Pankratz

Had University of Colorado student Lynn "Gordie" Bailey not died of alcohol poisoning in a fraternity initiation, he would have turned 21 today.

Now, in a lawsuit, Bailey's mother claims that no one called for help until 10 hours after her son was first believed to be in "dire need of medical help.

"The lawsuit lays out statistics about college frat life and the dangers of alcohol in the Greek system. It is those dangers that Leslie Lanahan, Bailey's mother, says she wants to expose in her wrongful-death suit against the Chi Psi fraternity and some of its members.

"Frankly, this (the lawsuit) was the last step," Lanahan said from her Dallas home this week. "It was not something we wanted to do. But I feel there is a story out there that the world needs to know. I don't think any other family should have to endure what we had to endure.

"The suit seeks unspecified damages to compensate for the parents' "significant grief and emotional distress" over Bailey's death. It is set for trial in Boulder next year.

"It's dangerous traditions," Lanahan said. "It cannot change and will not change unless people stand up and say, 'Wait a minute."

''Bailey died on the morning of Sept. 17, 2004, of acute alcohol poisoning. His blood-alcohol level was 0.328 percent.

The night before, he and 26 other Chi Psi fraternity pledges at CU were blindfolded and taken to the woods near Gold Hill, west of Boulder, as part of an initiation ritual.

The pledges were told to drink large amounts of whiskey and wine, police said at the time. After he was driven back to the fraternity, Bailey lapsed into unconsciousness.

None of the frat members called 911 for hours afterward. Instead, some scrawled vulgar phrases and drawings on his body.

Lanahan said she is outraged that her son would die like that. She called him a superb athlete, captain of his high school football team and a lacrosse player who made the CU club team the day before he died.

"He just had a very, very large personality," Lanahan said. "I think he lit up a room. He was … very outspoken, very gregarious."

Attorneys for the Chi Psi fraternity and various fraternity members declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In court filings responding to the allegations, the defendants - including the fraternity - deny they were at fault in Bailey's death, and some claim they weren't even present at the Chi Psi Gold Hill ritual.

Some of the defendants say others bore responsibility for the death, ranging from a Boulder liquor store to Bailey himself.

"Mr. Bailey was at all times a competent adult … fully capable of controlling his own behaviors," defendant Nicholas Abrahamsen, a member of Chi Psi, said through his attorneys in court records.

Patrick Wall, president of the Chi Psi fraternity at the time of Bailey's death, said he didn't participate in the events at Gold Hill.

Lanahan said she now spends a "good amount of her time" on the Dallas-based Gordie Foundation, launched by the family to work against alcohol abuse, binge drinking and frat hazing.

That work, she said, "gives me some hope that the kids are actually going to try to make a difference."