LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three former members of a now-closed Fresno State fraternity were charged on Tuesday with misdemeanor hazing in connection with the death of a pledge who died of alcohol intoxication during an initiation last year.
Philip Dhanens, an 18-year-old freshman from the city of Bakersfield in California’s agricultural heartland, died in August 2012 after drinking a deadly amount of alcohol during initiation to the Theta Chi fraternity at the California State University’s Fresno campus, prosecutors said.
Leonard Louis Serrato, 28, Aaron Joseph Raymo, 24, and Daniel Woodard Baker, 22, were charged with one count each of hazing and providing alcohol to a person under the age of 21. They face a possible sentence of six months to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted.
Lawyers for the men, who are students at the university, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sonia De La Rosa, a spokeswoman for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, said arrest warrants would be issued for the men unless they made arrangements to appear in court.
College hazing has attracted renewed attention since the high profile 2011 death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, 26, during a band trip.
“The loss of any life because of dangerous drinking causes anguish for classmates, schools, communities and most of all for families,” Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said in a statement released with the charges.
“Philip Dhanens’ death has focused attention across the country on dangerous drinking and its consequences,” she said.
Dhanens’ blood alcohol content at the time of his death was more than .40, according to prosecutors, or five times the legal limit for driving in California.
Paul Oliaro, vice president of student affairs for Fresno State, said in a statement, “With their announcement today, we can proceed with our internal campus discipline process.”
He said university officials who had suspended the Theta Chi chapter after the incident had been asked to withhold further action until the police investigation had been completed.
The Theta Chi fraternity said its board of directors had voted to revoke the charter of the Fresno State chapter after the incident. “Theta Chi Fraternity continues to keep in its thoughts and prayers Philip’s parents, his family, and all those affected by Philip’s passing,” it said in a statement.
“Theta Chi Fraternity has strict guidelines prohibiting underage alcohol consumption and a strict anti-hazing policy,” it said. “The International Fraternity expects its chapters and members to uphold these policies and to follow all applicable laws.”
Fresno is the largest city in California’s Central Valley agricultural hub, about 170 miles southeast of San Francisco.
In the Florida hazing case, Champion’s death was ruled a homicide as a result of a hemorrhagic shock caused by blunt force trauma during the hazing on a chartered bus, according to the medical examiner’s report.
Twelve former band members were charged in connection with the case. Two pleaded no contest last year.
Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andre Grenon