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John Hansen lets case cruise away

Hazing charges dismissed for three

By ALISHA WYMAN

The Union Democrat

The case against three former student firefighters suspected of hazing was dismissed by a judge Tuesday, after the prosecutor said he was unable to go to trial without his key witness, who is on a cruise in the Bahamas.

The trial was scheduled for today in the second of two cases against former Columbia College firefighters.

Michael Anthony Hall Sacheli, Cary Eugene Gregg and Timothy Scott O’Neill were suspected of taking part in an initiation ritual Jan. 13, 2007, which involved binding rookie firefighters and spraying them with a fire hose.

Prosecutor John Hansen asked for a continuance because the case’s investigator, Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ken Diaz, is on a cruise.

When the case was set for trial in January, Diaz had already put in a request for vacation, Hansen said. Somehow, Hansen didn’t realize Diaz would be gone as the attorneys agreed to the trial date.

“It was my fault, and I take full responsibility,” he said.

Subpoenas in the case were issued March 25, but Hansen said he didn’t hear until Friday afternoon that Diaz would be out of town.

Superior Court Judge Eric DuTemple denied Hansen’s motion claiming the District Attorney and Sheriff’s offices had ample time to plan for such events.

“The three separate superior court calendars were moved around to accommodate this,” he said.

With subpoenas issued in mid-March, there was time to correct the error sooner, he added.

“Obviously it doesn’t seem like it’s very important to the Sheriff’s Department if they didn’t notify you,” he said.

Without Diaz, who conducted the interviews of witnesses in the case, Hansen told the judge he couldn’t proceed and requested that the case be dismissed.

Melissa Dague, O’Neill’s Berkeley attorney, was happy with the judge’s ruling.

“It was the right decision,” she said. Sonora defense attorney Mark Borden, who represented Gregg, said he was prepared to go to trial. He added that the charges were related to events that constituted an initiation, not hazing, which involves serious bodily injury.

“These kids can go on and become the full-fledged firefighters they are trained to be, rather than dealing with unfounded charges,” Borden said.

Last month, three more Columbia College firefighters accepted plea agreements, and charges against one was dropped.

Matthew Anthony Rossi, Aaron Keith Means, Christopher Ryan Ingram and Brian Kendall Cole faced misdemeanor charges of hazing and battery stemming from a Jan. 15, 2007, off-campus party.

A Stockton student, Andrew Grafius told officials he was kicked, punched and forced to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Rossi, Means and Ingram instead pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace and were fined $364.

Charges against Cole were dropped.

Contact Alisha Wyman at awyman@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4527.

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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