Local News

Tuesday, Oct 09 2012 06:08 PM

Fraternity members not cooperating in drinking death investigation

BY MARC BENJAMIN The Fresno Bee

FRESNO — Leaders of the Fresno State fraternity where a freshman drank himself to death last month told 15 pledges they couldn't leave a room until they polished off multiple bottles of liquor, a court document released Tuesday said.

Fresno police are calling the alcohol-related death last month of Philip Dhanens, 18, of Bakersfield, a hazing investigation.

Theta Chi fraternity members have been evasive and are impeding the investigation into the death of the freshman pledge, according to details from a search warrant filed in Fresno County Superior Court.

Fresno police officials would not comment Tuesday about the investigation, but detective Michael Gebhart said in the search warrant that fraternity members have declined to answer questions and to provide requested information.

The search warrant said that police are worried that fraternity members may destroy or discard evidence.

Fresno State officials also declined to comment Tuesday, saying they want to let the investigation take its course. Paul Oliaro, vice president for student affairs, said Theta Chi remains on university suspension.

Officials with Theta Chi could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Last month, the fraternity's international headquarters in Indianapolis suspended the Fresno State chapter.

The search warrant reveals what detectives say they were told by fraternity members about the party Aug. 31 at Theta Chi:

Fraternity pledges were locked in a room and given several bottles of alcohol to drink.

Theta Chi executive board members told pledges they were not required to drink. Then the fraternity leaders passed around bottles of rum, tequila and vodka to the pledges in the “Chapter Room,” which was closed to outsiders.

“The pledges were encouraged to drink, socialize and bond with each other despite their age,” the warrant said. Two bottles were finished in 10 minutes.

“Additional bottles were introduced as the pledges passed around and finished each bottle,” the warrant said. “In addition, the pledges were informed they were not allowed to leave the ‘Chapter Room’ to join the other fraternity members in the house until they drank all the alcohol in the ‘Chapter Room.’”

After about 20 minutes of drinking, chanting and encouragement, “Dhanens became excited and began drinking heavy and aggressively,” the warrant said.

Within an hour, he was showing severe symptoms of intoxication and told fraternity members he was not well before he passed out.

Dhanens was carried to the “Drunk Room” for those who drank too much, where he was supposed to be watched over by about a dozen fraternity members called the “Sober Brothers.”

Even after Dhanens passed out, other pledges continued to drink heavily, and six or seven of them vomited several times.

About three hours after he was taken to the “Drunk Room,” Dhanens was unconscious and not breathing. Fraternity members gave CPR as others called 911.

All non-fraternity members were ordered out of the house and fraternity members were ordered to their rooms, the warrant said.

The coroner's office reported Dhanens' blood-alcohol level was 0.36, four to five times the legal limit to drive. He was declared dead on Sept. 2.

Dhanens graduated from Garces High School earlier this year.

The former Garces Rams defensive lineman was not a party drinker, his friends told The Californian.

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