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Columbia not guilty pleas

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except:  By ALISHA WYMAN

The Union Democrat

Three of seven Columbia College Fire Department firefighters accused of misdemeanor hazing pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Tuolumne County Superior Court.

Michael Anthony Hall Sacheli, Cary Eugene Gregg and Timothy Scott O’Neill are suspected of taking part in an initiation ritual Jan. 13, which involved them binding rookie firefighters and spraying them with a fire hose.

Judge Doug Boyack tentatively set a pretrial conference for Oct. 17 after O’Neill’s defense attorney, Mark Borden, said he needed time to review documents related to the case.

“Here’s the discovery I have on this case so far,” he said, holding up an about 3-inch-thick green binder.

There are also five audio tapes and four DVDs he still must review, he said.

The attorneys and the judge agreed on a trial date of Jan. 14, should a trial be ordered.

Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting a second, but related, case involving college firefighters.

Matthew Anthony Rossi, Aaron Keith Means, Christopher Ryan Ingram and Brian Kendall Cole face misdemeanor charges of hazing and battery.

Those charges stem from an incident that allegedly occurred at a Jan. 15 off-campus party. A 19-year-old Stockton student, Andrew Grafius, later told officials that, while at the party, he was kicked, punched and forced to drink excessive amounts of beer.

The arraignment for the four firefighters in that case is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 19.

The college firehouse, called Station 79, was prohibited from responding to off-campus emergencies while the hazing investigation was in process. The firehouse is running at full duty again, under a new agreement between the county and the Yosemite Community College District.

The agreement calls for a battalion chief to oversee the program, with constant supervision in place.

Deputy District Attorney John Hansen said he hasn’t discussed a plea agreement with the defending attorneys.

“We haven’t really had a chance to talk to them,” he said.

It is unusual to have two separate cases on two allegations so closely tied, he said. But the number of the defendants won’t affect his case other than to make it longer.

“It’s the same case no matter how many defendants there are,” he said.

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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