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Carson Starkey Memorial Run

Loss of son leads family to warn of alcohol poisoning at Cap 10K
Austin High graduate died last fall at California university.

By Claire Osborn
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, March 28, 2009

When he was 6 years old, Carson Starkey got mowed down by a wave of people in his first race, but got back up and finished second in his age group, his mother said. By age 9, he was loping along in his first Statesman Capitol 10,000 with his parents.

He competed in the race for the next eight years, and ran one year dressed as a 1970s summer camper. Last year he walked the race with a broken back from a tennis injury.

This year his parents, Julia and Scott Starkey of Austin, won’t see their son striding to the finish line.

Carson Starkey, 18, died of alcohol poisoning during a fraternity initiation in California on Dec. 2. He had pledged to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity during his freshman year at California Polytechnic State University.

“His death blind-sided us and left a permanent hole in our family,” said Scott Starkey.

The Starkeys said they knew little about alcohol poisoning before their son died. Now, they say, they want to educate other people about it.

So they and 200 of their friends and relatives will walk in the Capitol 10K Sunday wearing blue T-shirts with a picture of Carson Starkey and the address of a Web site that gives information about life-threatening signs of alcohol abuse, the Starkeys said.

The Web site, www.withcarson.com, got its name because Scott Starkey, who builds mountain bike trails, named a trail he and Carson constructed in Hunt “With Carson” because his son liked to ride it so much.

Since Carson’s death, the Starkeys have also persuaded the Austin Independent School District to add alcohol poisoning and hazing awareness to the secondary health curriculum next year, said Tracy Lunoff, health curriculum director. They have also established a scholarship fund for a graduating Austin High School senior and a fund to create awareness about alcohol poisoning and hazing.

Carson’s older brother Hayden, who is attending the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., talked to 4,500 of his fellow classmates in an assembly before spring break about what happened to Carson, Julia Starkey said.

A graduate of Austin High School, Carson Starkey was a member of the school’s tennis team, lacrosse team and cross-country running team. But his true love was cycling, said Scott Starkey, and he helped his father build mountain bike trails in Texas and Colorado.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of his high school class, Carson Starkey decided to go to Cal-Poly because it was one of the top schools for architectural engineering, his mother said.

He started school Sept. 13, bringing his cowboy boots and a Texas flag with him and immediately making friends, Julia Starkey said. He told his parents that he wanted to join the fraternity to make more friends, they said.

The last time they saw him was at the airport after he spent Thanksgiving at home, Scott Starkey said.

They declined to comment about the details of their son’s death, saying it remains under investigation. According to a report from the San Luis Obispo Police Department, Carson died as a result of hazing, and autopsy results showed his blood alcohol content was between .39 and .44. The legal limit to drive in Texas is .08.

San Luis Obispo investigators are continuing to interview people in the case, and no charges have been filed, said Capt. Dan Blanke of the San Luis Obispo Police Department. Hazing that results in death is either a misdemeanor or a felony in California depending on the circumstances, Blanke said. In Texas, hazing that results in death is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $10,000.

The Starkeys said they weren’t exposed to hazing when they were in the Greek system at the University of Texas. Julia Starkey said she warned her son about the dangers of drinking but didn’t know to warn him about alcohol poisoning.

In her son’s memory, Julia Starkey said, she had someone make a quilt out of Carson’s Cap 10K T-shirts.

“We intend to learn from this experience and use our knowledge in a positive way to help others. Our ultimate goal is to never have another family suffer as we have,” the Starkeys said in a statement.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. 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 new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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