With a criminal trial still creeping forward in the hazing death of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey, Starkey’s parents have filed a civil lawsuit naming many more parties than the four fraternity members facing criminal charges.
On Sept. 21, Starkey’s parents—Scott and Julia of Texas—filed a wrongful death complaint against the national and local chapters of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and nine fraternity members who attended Cal Poly. The complaint alleges “gross negligence” and a violation of “Matt’s Law,” the anti-hazing law.
Four of the defendants named in the civil lawsuit still await criminal trial. Haithem Ibrahim and Zacary Ellis are facing felony and misdemeanor charges; Russell Taylor and Adam Marszal are facing misdemeanor charges.
Ivo Labar, one of the attorneys representing the Starkeys, said the civil case was intentionally filed at the beginning of the school year as a warning to incoming freshmen and fraternity pledges. Most of the time, Labar said, the inner workings of fraternities are kept secret: “The idea is what happens in the fraternity stays there.”
Julia Starkey declined to comment when contacted by New Times.
Brandon Weghorst, a spokesman for the national SAE office, had no comment on the lawsuit because the fraternity hadn’t yet been served court documents. The Cal Poly chapter has been suspended under a cease-and-desist order since Starkey’s death.
Starkey died of alcohol poisoning in December 2008 during the fraternity’s “brown bag night,” in which the pledges were sent to a room covered in a tarp, with a bucket to collect vomit, and told to drink large quantities of alcohol, according to a police investigation. During the night Starkey became unresponsive; several members drove him toward the hospital—they first removed any frat paraphernalia Starkey was wearing—but turned back. Starkey was pronounced dead the following day with a blood alcohol level between .39 and .48 percent, according to a news release. If Starkey had received medical treatment he might have survived, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint filed in the SLO County Superior Court details other hazing rituals at SAE. During “SoCo night” pledges were told to drink large quantities of Southern Comfort whiskey. During hazing rituals involving binge drinking, such as brown bag night, frat members would chant “puke and rally” at pledges. Also according to the complaint, brown bag night is widely known by fraternities as one of the “three deadliest nights.”
Another ritual, also involving drinking, is called, “don’t fuck your brother night.” During that ritual, Labar said, “They’re trying to indoctrinate the pledges to be completely loyal.”