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Hazing News

Update on Utah State death

Hazing claimed in death
From the doorway of the Sigma Nu fraternity house, people watch as members of Michael Starks family remove his vehicle from the parking lot of the home on Saturday. (Meegan M. Reid/Herald Journal)
Published:
Sunday, November 23, 2008 2:55 AM CST
The brother of a Utah State University freshman who died from apparent alcohol poisoning claims Michael Starks was the victim of fraternity hazing.

by Herald Journal staff

In a statement made to The Herald Journal outside the Sigma Nu house in Logan on Saturday, George Starks said his 18-year-old brother was “captured” as part of a fraternity initiation ritual, then forced to drink a fifth of vodka in one hour.

Logan police did not respond to phone calls Saturday made in an effort to confirm whether an official accusation has been made or if any charges have been filed in the case. Police have not confirmed the cause of death, but did say Friday that alcohol was involved in the situation.

Starks was in the process of becoming a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity, according to the university. He had reportedly been drinking at an off-campus house before returning to the fraternity. Members of the house called 911 at about 4 a.m. Friday when Starks was found unresponsive. He was later pronounced dead at Logan Regional Hospital.

Starks’ family requested a USU police officer stand by Saturday when they visited a university dorm and the Sigma Nu house, 765 N. 800 East in Logan, to collect Michael’s personal belongings.

Tensions got high at the fraternity house during the visit.

“The family asked for him (the officer) to come and keep the peace while they retrieved some of his belongings. He was just there protecting everyone’s interests,” USU Sgt. Joe Huish said. “Nobody got crazy or out-of-hand, but there were some heated things said.”

Although Starks lived in Mountain View Towers, his vehicle was at the Sigma Nu house. A locksmith was also on the scene Saturday to help the family gain entry into his vehicle.

Huish said officers helped family members collect Starks’ belongings at Mountain View Towers.

“As you can imagine, the family’s really distraught,” he said. “The family, right now, is kind of of the belief that they’re not getting all the information.”

On Friday, the family issued a statement saying Starks did not have a history of drinking or abusing drugs.

In an obituary posted to the Starks Funeral Parlor’s Web site Saturday, Michael Starks is remembered for his “kindness and love.” He worked at the Friendship Manor Retirement Home for three years and served homeless people through the Cathedral of the Madeleine’s Good Samaritan Program.

“His kindness and love shined in each of the innumerable ways he connected with family, friends, and strangers every day of the 18 years the world was lucky enough to have him,” the obit reads.

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, USU officials said during a press conference Friday afternoon.

A vigil service will be held at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m. Monday. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Tuesday, also at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

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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