SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – Four California college students face charges stemming from a fraternity hazing that caused the alcohol-induced death of a university freshman, authorities said Thursday.
Carson Starkey, 18, of Austin, Texas, was found dead in December with a blood-alcohol level between 0.39 percent and 0.44 percent.
He had to drink a bag full of alcoholic drinks as part of the fraternity pledging process at the California Polytechnic State University, police said.
"Carson's death was the result of a crime and it was entirely preventable," police Chief Deborah Linden said.
Haithem Ibrahim, 20, of Lafayette and Zacary Ellis, 22, of San Luis Obispo were charged Thursday with felony hazing causing death. Russell Taylor, 22, of Fresno, and Adam Marszal, 21, of Carmichael, were charged with misdemeanor hazing.
All four students face a misdemeanor charge of permitting a minor to consume alcohol.
Starkey was pledging the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which has since been suspended.
According to fraternity tradition, the pledges participated in "Brown Bag Night," in which a "Big Brother" purchased alcohol and put it in a brown bag for each pledge to consume, police said.
Ibrahim was Starkey's "Big Brother," but because he was not yet 21, Taylor purchased the alcohol on his behalf, police said. Authorities said Marszal, Taylor and Ibrahim went to two stores to buy liquor, including 151-proof Everclear.
The 17 pledges sat in a circle around a bucket and Ellis instructed them to drink all the alcohol in their bags by midnight, police said. The "Big Brothers" watched while the pledges drank.
When Starkey passed out, several members put him in a car to take him to a hospital — removing his pledge pin so he wouldn't be associated with the fraternity — but he then began vomiting so they took him back to the house and put him to bed, police said.
Police said the members checked on him until everyone went to bed about 2 a.m. When he was found unresponsive the next morning, fraternity members shooed other pledges out of the house before police and paramedics arrived, authorities said.
Starkey's parents said they believe their son would not have wanted to join a fraternity if he knew the initiation rituals were dangerous.
"He participated in a dangerous fraternity ritual during which he was compelled to drink a fatal amount of alcohol. His death was not caused by 'voluntarily' drinking too much, and anyone who might suggest otherwise is misinformed," they said in a statement.
Ibrahim and Ellis were released on $50,000 bail and face up to three years in state prison if convicted of the felonies. Taylor and Marszal were released on $10,000 bail and face up to a year in county jail if convicted of the misdemeanors.
Attempts to contact their attorneys on Thursday afternoon were not successful.