Hazing News

Parents of Carson Starkey work for cultural change

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Julia Starkey was in a sorority and Scott Starkey was in a fraternity at the University of Texas.

Julia jokes “it was a long time ago” but noted they had positive, safe experiences.

Scott and Julia said they talked openly with their son about the risks of sex, drugs and drinking before he left for college.

But alcohol poisoning wasn’t something they knew much about.

They hope other parents will inform themselves and their children about its dangers.

“I just don’t know how drinking has become almost competitive for some young people,” Scott Starkey said. “Now there are drinking games and a culture of pressure that puts lives at risk. College students need to find other outlets to have fun.”

Carson Starkey was given rum, beer, a Sparks alcohol beverage and Everclear, which contains 75 percent alcohol.

He consumed the drinks in a matter of minutes, following direction from fraternity leaders — some of whom encouraged pledges to vomit and keep drinking.

Tests after Carson’s death determined that he had a blood-alcohol level of between 0.39 and 0.44 — five times the legal limit for driving.

The so-called Brown Bag night that led to Carson’s death was a tradition at the Cal Poly SAE chapter, fraternity members said.

“He could have been saved if the fraternity brothers hadn’t been scared of the consequences of taking Carson to the hospital,” Julia Starkey said.

The call

The Starkeys learned of their son’s death after Julia received a midmorning call from the 805 area code on Dec. 2, 2008. She dialed the number back and reached the coroner’s office.

“I immediately went and got Scott and we spoke with (deputy coroner) Steve Crawford,” Julia Starkey said. “I don’t think there was any good way to receive the news.”

The Starkeys have flown to San Luis Obispo nine times for matters relating to their son’s death. They say the community here has been sympathetic and supportive.

And they’ve met frequently with San Luis Obispo Police Department officials as well as prosecutor Craig Van Rooyen.

Four members of SAE were charged criminally; the last two of the cases wrapped up last week.

Zacary Ellis, Haithem Ibrahim, Adam Marszal and Russell Taylor each pleaded no contest to misdemeanor hazing resulting in death.

Ellis was sentenced to 120 days in County Jail and three years of informal probation.

Ibrahim was sentenced to 45 days in County Jail, three years’ informal probation and cooperation in Cal Poly’s anti-hazing education efforts.

Taylor and Marszal each received 30 days in County Jail, three years misdemeanor probation and 40 hours community service or two presentations on hazing and alcohol.

“The most recent plea results in all four defendants admitting their responsibility for the death of Carson Starkey,” Van Rooyen said. “Hazing is a serious problem and, unfortunately, has resulted in the untimely death of a promising young man.”

The Starkeys have sued Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a move they hope will stop the kind of behavior that led to their son’s fatality.

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. 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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