Parents of Cal Poly student who died in hazing incident hope the tragedy is a lesson

They urge former fraternity members to fight against hazing as plea deal reduces charges

nwilson@thetribunenews.comJune 8, 2010 

The parents of the late Carson Starkey urged two former fraternity members to use their lives to combat hazing in light of their son’s death.

They spoke at the sentencing Tuesday for the fraternity members’ roles in the Cal Poly freshman’s alcohol-related hazing fatality in 2008.

Haithem Ibrahim, 21, of Lafayette, and Zacary Weston Ellis, 23, of San Luis Obispo, entered their pleas of no contest to misdemeanor hazing causing death before San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy. They both initially were charged with felony hazing.

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.

A no-contest plea results in a conviction without an admission of guilt; the penal effect is the same as a guilty plea.

Scott and Julia Starkey called the fraternity members’ actions leading to their son’s death foolish and reckless, and urged them to spread the message that hazing is wrong.

“I pray you will be able to grow from this experience and find ways to use your lives to help stop such irresponsible and immature behavior that hides behind so-called tradition,” Scott Starkey said.

He also told the two men they might be fathers one day and told them to keep Carson Starkey “alive in your hearts as you love and raise your own children.”

The Starkeys flew from Austin, Texas, where Carson Starkey grew up and graduated high school.

Julia Starkey said that she was surprised when Carson told her he was planning to join a fraternity but felt comforted that he’d have friends.

“Carson told us he was looking for brotherhood,” Julia Starkey said to Ellis and Ibrahim. “Would you call the way you treated him brotherhood? Your actions and your choices to not help him that night are memories you and I will have to live with the rest of our lives.”

Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen said in a statement that after carefully evaluating the strength of the case “and after consulting extensively with Carson’s parents, we have determined this is an appropriate resolution.”

“Both defendants are admitting their responsibility for the death of Carson Starkey,” Van Rooyen said. Ellis’ attorney, Richard Conway, said that his client is no longer a Cal Poly student; Ibrahim is currently enrolled.

“It’s a tragedy for everyone involved,” Conway said. “Mr. Ellis grieves deeply for Carson Starkey.”

Ibrahim gave a brief statement in court, saying he’s “deeply sympathetic” for Starkey’s loss and his “thoughts and prayers go out” to his family.

Starkey died on the so-called “brown bag night,” an event held for pledges of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Fraternity members assigned the prospective members large quantities of alcohol to consume, witnesses said.

Starkey’s consumption included rum, beer, a Sparks alcoholic beverage and Everclear, a natural-grain spirit that consists of at least 75 percent alcohol.

A criminal case alleging misdemeanor hazing charges against SAE fraternity brothers Adam Marszal and Russell Taylor is pending. A trial-setting conference in that case is scheduled for July 1.

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