Monday, September 28, 2009

Hazing Death at Cal Poly Results in Law Suit

Parents of Cal Poly student Carson Starkey sue over death of son in alleged hazing incident

By Nick Wilson

The parents of the Cal Poly fraternity pledge who died last year after an alleged hazing incident have filed a lawsuit against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and nine of its members.

Carson Starkey’s parents, Scott and Julia Starkey of Austin, Texas, filed the lawsuit Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. It names the Illinois-based fraternity, its Cal Poly chapter, and Bennett Holden, Haithem Ibrahim, Zacary Ellis, Matt Silva, Russell Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Jamie Merkler, Christopher Perkins and Adam Marszal.

The Starkeys allege four counts of negligence and a violation of Matt’s Law, a California law that allows for lawsuits when injuries or deaths result from hazing.

No specific amount of money is being sought.

A civil filing such as the Starkeys’ represents just one side in a dispute. Officials at the fraternity headquarters in Illinois couldn’t be reached Tuesday afternoon.

Cal Poly was not named as a defendant in the suit, and the university has suspended SAE indefinitely; university officials say the fraternity likely will never return to campus.

The suit alleges that the fraternity should have taken “reasonable measures” to prevent excessive alcohol consumption.

The lawsuit also claims that fellow fraternity members failed to provide medical care for Starkey by neglecting to take him to the hospital.

Carson Starkey died of alcohol poisoning Dec. 2, 2008, hours after attending a “brown bag” event at 551 Highland Drive in San Luis Obispo in which pledges were assigned to drink specific amounts of alcohol given to them by older fraternity members in a brown bag, the suit alleges.

Fraternity members were chanting “puke and rally” to urge pledges to drink excessively, the suit claims. Criminal cases against four SAE members - Ibrahim, Ellis, Marszal and Russell Taylor - allege they committed hazing and furnished alcohol to a minor. They each have pleaded not guilty.

In the civil case, the Starkey family is being represented by Doug Fierberg of the law firm Bode & Grenier in Washington, D.C., and Ivo Labar of the firm Kerr & Wagstaffe in San Francisco.

The firms have a history of filing lawsuits against fraternities for deaths and injuries caused by hazing and other misconduct, according to a news release.

In the court filing, no lawyers representing the defendants were named.

The lawsuit alleges that the fraternity-related death of Tyler Cross in 2006 at the University of Texas resulted in a $16.2 million verdict against SAE.

Another death associated with SAE and relating to alcohol poisoning occurred in March at the University of Kansas, according to the court documents.

The Starkeys claim that the “Big Brother” fraternity ritual, in which older members assign tasks, including drinking, to younger members, is “particularly deadly because of the unavoidable association between belonging and finishing what has been provided.”

The Starkeys say they vow to make people nationwide aware of the dangers of fraternity-related misconduct and hazing.

“We will continue to honor Carson by doing everything we can to end widespread misconduct by fraternities,” Scott Starkey said in a statement. “By bringing this lawsuit, we hope to bring attention to the dangers of hazing, cause fundamental changes in fraternities, and prevent other families from suffering as we have.”

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