Lauren Rabaino

The death of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey last quarter has been determined to be the result of alcohol poisoning. Police have further confirmed that his death was as a result of hazing and the party Starkey had attended the evening before his death was an initiation event for the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which he was pledging.

Starkey’s recently released autopsy reveals that he suffered from respiratory arrest due to Acute Ethanol Toxicity, or alcohol poisoning. Starkey’s blood alcohol level ranged between .39 and .44 percent – a level exceeding the effects of surgical anesthesia.

When blood alcohol levels exceeds such a high percentage, the brain stops functioning due to toxic overloads of alcohol, Cal Poly health center medical doctor David L. Harris explained.

“It’s impossible for the body to metabolize that much alcohol, overwhelming the capacity to function,” Harris said. “The brain tells your body to stop breathing and a number of organs in the body shut down.”

Starkey, 18, passed away the morning of Dec. 2, 2008 at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. At 6:24 that morning, a 911 call was received from a house on Highland Drive where Starkey was subsequently found unresponsive. Investigators have since performed numerous interviews and conducted search warrants on nine separate locations, concluding that his death was the result of alcohol-related hazing at the fraternity’s initiation party held at the house.

With the investigation ongoing, police are not yet proceeding with criminal charges at this time, although hazing is considered a crime, said San Luis Obispo Police Captain Dan Blanke.

“We will definitely keep this story in the spotlight because of the high profile tragic event that occurred in our community,” Blanke said.

Following Starkey’s death last quarter, SAE’s charter was suspended from all activity first by the university and later by the fraternity’s national organization. The chapter’s charter has since been completely revoked by Cal Poly, meaning it is no longer affiliated with the university.

Stephan Lamb, associate director of Student Life & Leadership, said university officials have known for some time that alcohol was a likely factor in Starkey’s death, but that it was unclear just how much alcohol he had consumed until the autopsy results were released.

Cal Poly has launched its own on-campus judicial investigation regarding the incident which is separate from the criminal investigation conducted by police. Following the first exploratory investigation, which includes interviewing fraternity members, judicial action could be taken against the individuals found to be responsible, Lamb said.

“There are things happening in the greek community and throughout the rest of the community that need to be examined,” he added.

Following Starkey’s death, a greek summit was held in Cambria on Jan. 9 to 11 to discuss the future of Cal Poly greek life activity.

“The whole greek community knows it’s under very close scrutiny right now,” Lamb said.

SAE’s risk management contract includes sections on alcohol, drugs, sober rides and sexual assault. It states that “any and all pledge and/or new member activities will be dry” and “no member will force any other member to drink.” It also prohibits underage drinking, requires the fraternity to have “at least two sober brothers” at every event and every member will be a “true gentleman” around women at all times.

In addition to the death of Starkey, SAE has had several incidences in which they had to attend meetings with Student Life and Leadership including alcohol violations, destruction of property and the alleged drugging of a sorority member with the date rape drug GHB.

The investigation surrounding Starkey’s death is continuing and police are not releasing further information at this time. A call made to the Starkey home in Texas was answered by an unknown family member who declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation.

Previous SAE issues:
April 2006

Members of SAE consumed alcohol prior to a Greek Week event lip-sync. They were required to participate in community service and apologize to the Greek Week Comittee and several greek organizations.

February 2007

SAE sponsored a party at the Morro Bay community center that lead to damaged hardwood floors. The police report states that police showed up to find several intoxicated subjects vandalizing the property. They were arrested for public
intoxication. SAE was later placed on social probation.

October 2007

A member of a sorority alleged that she was given GHB at a SAE and Alpha Omnicron Pi exchange. The incident allegedly happened at a home where members of the fraternity lived. The woman proved positive for the date rape drug GHB in a report from Cal Poly’s health center. The perpetrators were not discovered. SAE was placed on social probation.

– Genevieve Loggins and Giana Magnoli contributed to this report

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