Student Hospitalized After Possible Frat Hazing Incident
Authorities say hazing may have led to hypothermia case; UCSC student still recovering in hospital after beach incident
By J.M. BROWN – Sentinel staff writer
Posted: 12/31/2008 05:18:48 PM PST
A top California State Parks official confirmed Wednesday that authorities are investigating a severe hypothermia case at Bonny Doon Beach as a possible fraternity hazing incident.
Warren Fung, a 20-year-old sophomore at UC Santa Cruz, remains hospitalized at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center-Fremont, but medical officials and relatives have declined to discuss his condition.
Kirk Lingenfelter, a State Parks supervisor overseeing the Santa Cruz County coastline, said Fung has regained consciousness and spoken with family and friends. UCSC police and the District Attorney’s Office are still working with park rangers to determine whether a crime was committed during the Dec. 15 incident.
“I am certainly not going to speculate what charges could be brought to bear,” Lingenfelter said. Under the state’s hazing law, which was revised in 2006, anyone found guilty of causing serious bodily harm can be charged with a felony and serve up to a year in jail or prison if convicted.
Lingenfelter said he did not expect to know what happened to Fung until more students can be interviewed after returning from winter break next week. Investigators also need to take a statement directly from Fung, who was transferred to the hospital after friends took him to a 24-hour medical clinic in Santa Cruz after he became unconscious at the beach.
Lingenfelter said it’s unclear how long Fung, who has been described as slight of build, was in the water or on the
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beach, where up to 50 young people had gathered as early as 7 a.m. Investigators are trying to determine if the crowd had gathered the night before and stayed through the morning, which would violate state park rules.
Witnesses told park rangers they were stargazing, but authorities became suspicious that hazing was involved after a birdwatcher standing on a bluff above the beach that morning told UCSC police he saw several things indicating a fraternity event. Lingenfelter said he could not elaborate on the man’s statement because he had not read it.
The birdwatcher gave authorities a brief video clip he took at the beach, which is a mile south of Davenport. But Lingenfelter said the video did not provide any conclusive evidence of a hazing incident.
He said its remains unclear which fraternity, if any, was involved. There are at least 20 fraternity and sororities represented on campus.
UCSC is awaiting the outcome of the State Parks investigation before looking into any potential student involvement in the event, a campus spokesman said.
Isaac Ruelas, the youth minister for Christian Cathedral, an Oakland church connected to the private high school where Fung graduated, said he heard that Fung “was contemplating joining a fraternity and that they invited him out to some kind of hazing” that involved swimming in the ocean.
Ruelas said Fung weighs about 98 pounds and is about 5 feet 4 inches tall. State Parks records indicate the water temperature that morning was about 52 degrees and the air temperature was about 40.
Ruelas described Fung as “very motivated” and a “good kid for the most part.” Fung represents UCSC’s College Ten on the Student Fee Advisory Committee, and a campus official said Fung is well-liked among peers on that panel.
Several of Fung’s friends on the online social network site Facebook are members of the Pi Alpha Phi chapter at UCSC. But the chapter’s president, Ronald Chan, said Fung is not a member and that the group does not permit hazing practices.
“We don’t do any extremes,” Chan said, though he declined to discuss what pledges do to seek membership.
Chan said he was not present at the Dec. 15 beach gathering but was unsure whether other members of his fraternity were. UCSC’s winter break began the day before, so he said he expected many of the members were out of town.
Anyone with information about the case may call State Parks at 429-2850 or UCSC police at 459-2231.
Contact J.M. Brown at 429-2410 or email@example.com.