LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A fraternity at a Los Angeles university has agreed to disband due to the hazing-related death of a 19-year-old pledge who collapsed in the heat on a hike after his group ran out of water, the school’s president said on Friday.
The college, California State University, Northridge, was rocked by the July death of Armando Villa, who was “pledging” or joining a chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and was made to hike in the Angeles National Forest.
The case, which is under criminal investigation, follows a number of recent high-profile hazing deaths due to physical abuse and forced alcohol consumption that have placed fraternities under heightened scrutiny.
In March, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the oldest and largest U.S. college fraternities, announced it was ending member initiation practices.
Northridge’s president Dianne Harrison, said in a statement that an investigative report ordered by the university into Villa’s death made clear that members of Pi Kappa Phi engaged in hazing.
She said university officials asked Zeta Mu, the chapter of Pi Kappa Phi at the Los Angeles campus to disband, or the school would conduct a hearing to seek that result.
On Thursday night, the chapter voted to voluntarily withdraw as an organization from campus life, she said.
“The report’s findings are deeply disturbing, and I will not turn a blind eye to any reports of hazing,” Harrison said.
A partially redacted version of the report revealed Villa and other pledges were forced to hike up a peak on a hot summer day, and that they ran out of water on the way back down.
The report says some in the group became disoriented and dehydrated and may have been suffering from heat stroke. Villa ran ahead and was found collapsed in a culvert before he died that day.
Villa and others were forced to buy discount shoes which were too small for him, leaving his feet with blisters, according to the report.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Deputy Kelvin Moody said the criminal investigation into Villa’s death is still ongoing and he could not release the cause of death.
Penalties for individual students who might have been involved in Villa’s death will be determined after the criminal investigation, a process that could result in expulsions, Harrison said.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Robert Birsel