Three face trial in Chico frat hazing
By Bill Lindelof - Bee Staff Writer
The Butte County district attorney is prosecuting three Chico fraternity members on charges of illegal hazing -- invoking a law passed in the name of a student who died in a similar stunt two years ago.
Beta Theta Pi members allegedly made pledges do calisthenics and crawl through mud, then submerged them up to their necks in freezing water, subjecting them to hypothermia, District Attorney Mike Ramsey said Tuesday.
"The ice bath ritual caught our attention," he said. "If (pledges) didn't answer questions correctly -- and they were designed that you couldn't -- (they) were immersed in a bath of ice water for a substantial period of time."
The three students each will be charged with misdemeanor hazing "in a manner likely to cause serious bodily injury."
Ramsey said theirs may be the first prosecutions under "Matt's Law," which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in September, toughening penalties for hazing. The law is named after California State University, Chico, student Matt Carrington, who died in February 2005 after a fraternity initiation rite.
Fellow members of Chi Tau forced him to repeatedly drink from a 5-gallon jug of water and do push-ups, sit-ups and other physical tasks. Carrington suffered a seizure and later died from water poisoning at a Chico hospital.
The Beta Theta Pi House -- which university officials shut down in June -- is only blocks from the Chi Tau House where Carrington was hazed.
"I feel scared that it happened again, and, that it happened so close to where Matt died," said Carrington's mother, Debbie Smith of Pleasant Hill. "I'm still in shock about it."
Shortly after Carrington's death, Chico State President Paul J. Zingg banned alcohol at fraternity and sorority houses and events, postponed recruitment of new members and mandated fraternity and sorority members to maintain minimum grade point averages.
In an e-mail on Tuesday, Zingg said that his initial reaction to the latest hazing incident was great disappointment.
"Nevertheless, I was gratified that members of this fraternity came forward to reveal behavior that goes against the grain of the progress we're making and the values we're defining at Chico State," he wrote. "They knew it wasn't right and they did something about it."
Following a university investigation and revocation of the 60-student Beta Theta Pi's charter, the university turned the matter over to police and prosecutors.
Ramsey said that Beta Theta Pi's president and vice president, Christopher Bizot, 23, and Michael Murphy, 22, and fraternity member Matthew Krupp, 23, will be sent notices this week by the court asking them to appear in about a month to enter a plea.
Murphy and Krupp face a maximum of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Bizot faces a $10,000 fine and 18 months in jail because he is also charged with obstructing the investigation by the Chico State police.
Bizot and Murphy were California State University, Chico, students when the incidents occurred in April. Krupp was a Butte College student.
Efforts to reach the students were unsuccessful.
Smith said the only way to stem hazing is to fully prosecute those who violate the new law.
"If that means a year in jail, then that is the way it must be," she said.
"Do we really want somebody to die before we enforce this? I don't want another family to go through this. I don't want Matt to have died in vain."
One member of Carrington's fraternity eventually pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor hazing, two pleaded guilty to being accessories to manslaughter and hazing, and a fourth pleaded guilty to hazing.
Smith said Chico State has gone "above and beyond" in trying to end hazing.
"We have a changing culture here," said spokesman Joe Wills. He credited students who came forward in the investigation into Beta Theta Pi.
Zingg said CSUC is making sure strides to change the drinking and behavioral culture that has impugned both the university and the town of Chico.
"It's not enough, though, to be resigned to the reality that even the best efforts will face disappointments," he said.
Paul Cody, assistant director at the Student Programs & Activities Center at the University of California, Davis, said he is glad to see Matt's Law being put to use. Addressing the issue of hazing in the courtroom might have a greater deterrent effect on hazing than the traditional campus-level discipline, he said.
"I think what it's saying is, 'This is unacceptable at all levels,' " Cody said. "If you do something, we're going to hold you accountable, not only at (the campus) level, but also (at the criminal) level."
As is the case at other campuses, Greek leadership changes at UC Davis each year and new students flood into the system, diluting some institutional memory, Cody said. "It's reinventing the wheel every year," he said.
John Piper, a 24-year-old math major at Chico State, said two years later, not everyone remembers what happened to Carrington. "I think the memory tends to not be as strong," he said. "It's not that students aren't conscious of it, just that it doesn't have the same impact as it once did."
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