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Tuesday, Sep 04 2012 08:11 PM

Fresno police chief launches investigation into frat death

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    By MARK CROSSE /T HE FRESNO BEE

    Several hundred people turned out for a candlelight vigil at Fresno State to honor fraternity pledge Philip Dhanens on Sept. 4, 2012.

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    By MARK CROSSE / THE FRESNO BEE

    Several hundred people turned out for a candlelight vigil at Fresno State to honor fraternity pledge Philip Dhanens on Sept. 4, 2012.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer wants to know who furnished alcohol to Philip Dhanens, an 18-year-old Garces High graduate who died Sunday after a night of drinking at an off-campus Fresno State fraternity house.

Dyer also wants to know whether fraternity pledges like Dhanens were in any way forced or compelled to consume alcohol as a condition of acceptance in the Theta Chi fraternity.

"I had the opportunity to speak today with Paul Dhanens, Philip's dad, Dyer said Tuesday. "I told him we are committing significant resources to this investigation."

In fact, three detectives are working on the case, which will require interviews of at least 30 witnesses and possibly many more.

"We want to interview each and every one of the individuals who were there that night," he said.

The aim, Dyer said, is to hold responsible those who furnished the alcohol at the frat party Friday night -- and to ascertain exactly what happened, in order to give the university the ability to respond effectively.

"There's nothing we can do to about the loss of this young man," Dyer said. "But there is something we can do to prevent anything like this from happening again."

Yet even if someone is prosecuted in the case, the charges will likely rise only to the misdemeanor level.

If anyone under 18 was drinking at the party, organizers could potentially be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Dyer said. Another charge is also a distinct possibility: furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 years of age.

An autopsy was expected to be completed Tuesday, one day after Dhanens' organs were donated. But the results of the autopsy are not expected to be released until later this week, Dyer said. One possibility, according to friends of the Dhanens family, is that the former Garces Rams football player and prom king had passed out and choked on or inhaled vomit.

Dyer said the results of the autopsy and any other medical findings are also extremely important to the investigation.

Meanwhile, the Garces campus was reeling at the news of the loss of one of its own.

On Tuesday morning four boys, each wearing a green ribbon in honor of Philip Dhanens, handed out identical green ribbons to everyone on campus.

"Philip was a big force on campus last year," said Lou Ann Durrett, director of communications and alumni relations at Garces. "A lot of kids loved that boy.

"He was one of my favorites," Durrett said.

Garces President John Fanucchi said the northeast Bakersfield Catholic school is taking every precaution to make sure students who need to talk to someone about their feelings of grief or loss have access to counselors and local priests.

Mass is celebrated every morning at the school's chapel, but Tuesday morning several current and former students, and parents, arrived to gather together in tribute to and in memory of Philip Dhanens.

Each Mass this week will be dedicated to Philip and the entire Dhanens family, Fanucchi said.

A meeting, which is expected to include representatives from the football team and the associated student body, will be held today, Fanucchi said. That way students can help determine what other events or tributes to Dhanens are to be held.

"Philip was a very special young man," Fanucchi said. "He was involved in fine arts, band, athletics and the campus ministry."

Garces wants students to develop in three main directions: spiritual, academic and social, the president said.

"Philip was a shining example in all three."

While Chief Dyer said there is nothing so far to indicate that hazing was a contributing factor in Dhanens' death, he said it's a possibility that must be investigated.

Ben Robb, a former Greek Council President at Cal State Bakersfield, said anti-hazing educational seminars are regularly held on campus.

Movies and popular culture have created an exaggerated view of fraternities and Greek society in the minds of many students. And the council worked hard to remake that image.

"Fraternities are there to support the educational experience of students," he said. "We try to turn people into better adults."

Educational efforts and strict campus prohibitions against hazing have done much to reduce the frequency of the practice, he said. But it may be difficult to stamp it out completely.

And while drinking is often thought to be a rite of passage for new college students, fraternities should never support or encourage it, Robb said.

Teens and alcohol are a bad combination, said Chief Dyer. A teenager's capacity for judgment is often not yet fully developed. And sometimes it can result in tragic loss.

"I remember what it was like," Dyer said, "to be an 18-year-old at Fresno State."

Funeral services for Philip Dhanens have been scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 14 at St. Philip the Apostle Church.

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