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Sad and tragic death at Utah State

‘An alarming tragedy’
Utah State University’s Gary Chambers, Vice President, Student Services, responds to questions about the death of a student during a press conference with Tiffany Evans, left, Director, Student Services, Friday, November 21, 2008. Police responded to a fraternity home where Michael Starks, a fraternity member candidate, was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead. (Alan Murray/Herald Journal)
By Matthew K. Jensen
Published:
Saturday, November 22, 2008 1:10 AM CST
An 18-year-old Utah State University student was found unresponsive at the Sigma Nu fraternity home early Friday morning and pronounced dead minutes later at Logan Regional Hospital, police say.

USU spokeswoman Tiffany Evans said Michael Starks of Salt Lake City was attending the university as a freshman and going through initiation proceedings to become a formal member of the fraternity’s Epsilon Upsilon chapter at USU. He lived in Mountain View Towers at USU.

University officials and police say alcohol was likely a factor in Starks’ death but caution that the official cause will come only after a complete medical evaluation.

Police are still investigating the incident.

“This is an alarming tragedy and our first thoughts are with the family,” she said. “We’re in the early stages of reviewing the incidents surrounding the student’s death.”

USU Vice President of Student Services Gary Chambers said the first order of business is to console the victim’s family, friends and fellow students.

“It’s not a time to affix blame or point fingers at what may or may not happen, but a time when you need to get your arms around people and help them through this tragic time,” he said during a press conference Friday afternoon.

Logan police reports indicate a 911 call was placed from inside the Sigma Nu residence at 3:55 a.m. by an unknown complainant who said Starks was not breathing. When emergency medical technicians arrived, they learned CPR had been performed by an individual at the scene.

Starks was transported to Logan Regional Hospital, where he was later pronounced deceased.

Police say prior to his death, Starks spent time at a home near 200 North and 200 West. Police have not indicated what took place at the residence. When Starks returned to the Sigma Nu home, friends helped him inside where he fell asleep and was later found to be unresponsive.

KSL-TV reported Friday Starks’ family confirmed he died of alcohol poisoning and also that he was taking part in an initiation.

A family statement reads that Starks had “no prior history of drinking or substance abuse, and the randomness of this tragedy haunts us all.”

“Michael was an outstanding young man who blessed us with 18 years of compassion, love and joy,” the statement reads. “He served many hours of volunteerism and reached out to many people in need. His absence from our family is a devastating loss.”

Starks graduated from Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City and was a general studies student at USU.

Chambers and Evans said Friday Starks’ death is the first of its kind at USU.

“Our frequency of these kinds of problems is very, very small,” said Chambers. “But we do disseminate a lot of information to students pertaining to being wise and being safe in many of their dealings, whether it be alcohol or other areas.”

Chambers said Sigma Nu policy mandates complete abstention from alcohol during the week of initiation and all activities related thereto.

“And of course the university has strong anti-hazing regulations,” added Evans. “We have a zero-tolerance policy and we’re continuously working with our students to make sure they’re safe.”

Sigma Nu Fraternity Inc. Executive Director Brad Beacham said the fraternity has temporarily suspended all activities at the USU chapter — a standard measure that will remain in place until the investigation moves forward.

University personnel met with the entire Greek community Friday and school counselors have met with Sigma Nu fraternity members.

The response from Starks’ professors was one of very great sorrow, Chambers said.

“This was a young man who apparently was known well in his classes. The professors we talked to all knew him and they were very saddened by this event that has taken place,” he said. “That speaks highly toward this young man where in many cases, a professor may not know everyone in a freshman class. But in his case they all knew him.”

Fraternity members and friends gathered at the Sigma Nu home Friday evening to honor Starks’ life.

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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--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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