Hazing News

Another Phi Tau trial: hazing and death by fire of Ryan Stewart (with earlier press release from national)

State News from AP

Students charged with hazing ask for jury trial

Thursday, August 9, 2007 5:44 PM CDT

LINCOLN, Neb. – Two Nebraska Wesleyan University students charged with hazing after police investigated a fatal fire at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house have asked for a jury trial.

The request from Jed Tompkins, 22, of Crete, and Lance Daharsh, 21, of Lincoln, was filed Thursday in Lancaster County Court.

Their attorney, Kirk Naylor, said the request was made to protect his clients rights.

In Nebraska, only suspects charged with a felony automatically get a jury trial. Those charged with lesser offenses _ hazing is a misdemeanor _ must request one.

Tompkins, the president of the Wesleyan chapter of Phi Kappa Tau at the time of the Nov. 17, fire, and Daharsh were charged after police finished their investigation into the death of Ryan Stewart.

The 19-year-old from Ord died shortly after a fire that is believed to have started in a second-story room around 4 a.m. on Nov. 17.

The search warrant affidavit released shortly after the fire said fraternity members told authorities fireworks were set off in or around the fraternity house shortly before the fire broke out. Investigators confiscated dozens of bottle rockets, 1 1/2-inch firecrackers, pop rockets and other larger fireworks. Some fireworks were also found on the grounds around the fraternity, the court document said.

Authorities said after the fatal fire that it probably was not set intentionally. An arson-detection dog did not find traces of flammable liquids.

If convicted, Tompkins and Daharsh each face up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

Another student, 22-year-old Brandon Lovegrove from Grafton, was charged with attempted first-degree arson, hazing, illegal possession of fireworks and unlawful throwing of fireworks. Those charges were not related to the fire that killed Stewart.

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,
Lincoln, Neb., Fire and Police authorities released their findings today regarding the Upsilon chapter house fire in November of 2006. While the details of the case are being examined, the chapter will remain on suspended status.

Phi Kappa Tau’s national officers and local Board of Governors members will be working with Nebraska Wesleyan over the weekend to review the evidence provided by the investigation in order to make a decision regarding the status of the chapter.

On Friday afternoon, the following statement was released by Phi Kappa Tau to the local press through Nebraska Wesleyan:

“We would like to thank the Lincoln Fire and Police Departments for their investigation into the Upsilon chapter house fire last November. We are very concerned over the findings that were shared with us this afternoon and will be working over the weekend with our local alumni advisors and Nebraska Wesleyan officials to determine the next steps. We expect a decision to be made quickly and hope to release those details early next week.

In line with our founding principles, mission statement, and creed, the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity has strict policies related to risk management and hazing. We are committed to enriching the lives of our members and to having a positive relationship with the institutions at which we reside.

As we work through the detailed findings of the investigation, Phi Kappa Tau National Fraternity officials and the local alumni advisory board will take appropriate disciplinary action regarding the Upsilon chapter. Regarding any individual citations that have been served by the local authorities, we will wait until these cases are adjudicated through proper channels before determining a course of action.

We would like to once again express our sincere sympathy to the family of Ryan Stewart as well as our deep appreciation for the Lincoln and Nebraska Wesleyan communities for their support of our chapter and its members.”

Upsilon Chapter was chartered in 1923, making it the 20th chapter of Phi Kappa Tau. The chapter has more than 1,500 alumni and has operated continuously for 84 years.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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