Utah State Sorority and Fraternity Charged With Felony Hazing

Charges are related to alcohol-poisoning death of fraternity pledge in November.

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A Utah State sorority and fraternity have been charged with felony hazing in relation to the alcohol poisoning death of a freshman fraternity pledge in November, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Twelve members were also charged with misdemeanors.

According to the charges filed, Michael Starks, 18, was "captured" by members of the Chi Omega sorority and was then painted and fed vodka. Starks had been pledging to the Sigma Nu fraternity, the documents said. Starks was found unresponsive at the Sigma Nu house at 4 a.m. on November 21. The medical examiner's office said his blood alcohol level was .373, more than four times the legal driving limit.

The court documents say that Starks was not forced to drink to join the fraternity, but Utah's hazing law allows for conviction even with consent as long as the victim is under 21. The students face a year in jail if convicted. Sigma Nu and Chi Omega have already been suspended by the school and their national organizations.

The details of the incident, as reported by the Tribune :

The week before Starks died, Sigma Nu members selected him and another student, 22-year-old Mackenzie Perry, as their top choices among the 16 young men who pledged last fall. At the time, Starks was staying at the fraternity, although he had a dorm room. At about 10 p.m. on Nov. 20, Sigma Nu member Christopher Ammon brought Starks and Perry to the Chi Omega sorority next door under the pretext of helping move furniture. The women took custody of the young men and sorority sister Whitney Miller, who had a liter bottle of vodka, drove Starks to the Logan home of fraternity brother Grant Barney at 181 W. 200 North.

Miller, who faces the most serious charges, told police fraternity members asked her to run the "capture."

"The only direction given by the fraternity was 'to not let Mack [Perry] drink too much' because he is small in stature," the charges state. "Otherwise, she was not prohibited to use alcohol in the activity."

The women asked the pledges to strip to their boxers, then painted the naked men Aggie blue and white. The men were given two bottles, Miller's liter bottle of vodka and a smaller one, which the women held to the pledges' mouths because their hands were covered in paint, charges allege.

"Eventually, however, Michael took the taller bottle—the vodka—and began to drink it himself," charging documents state. Perry told Starks to quit drinking, but he was so drunk he could not follow through, Perry told investigators. No charges were filed in connection with Perry's hazing because he is of legal drinking age.

After an hour, the other Sigma Nu pledges appeared and "rescued" Perry and Starks from Barney's house and took them back to Sigma Nu, at 765 N. 800 East. Fraternity members put the two drunk pledges in the shower, then to bed. Starks needed help washing, but he was talking and lucid before falling asleep, the charges say.

At some point that night, member Colton Hansen grew concerned about Starks and called poison control, which advised the fraternity brothers to give Starks water, lay him on his side and monitor him. They followed the instructions and two pledges watched over him. At 3:45 a.m., chapter president Cody Littlewood came into the room and discovered Starks wasn't breathing. Fraternity brother Kelly McGill started CPR, while Littlewood called 911. Paramedics failed to resuscitate Starks, who was later pronounced dead at a hospital.