Parents of Cal Poly student who died in hazing incident settle with fraternity

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comMay 23, 2011 

The parents of a Cal Poly freshman who died in a hazing incident while pledging a fraternity in 2008 reached a settlement with Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the family announced Monday.

Scott and Julia Starkey filed a lawsuit against the fraternity’s national headquarters “to hold them accountable” and “to make changes in the fraternity system, university and law that would protect other students and families,” the couple wrote.

Their son, 18-year-old Carson Starkey from Austin, Texas, was found dead on the morning of Dec. 2, 2008, after a hazing incident. He had an estimated blood-alcohol level of between 0.39 and 0.44 (the legal driving limit in California is 0.08). The architecture-engineering student was pledging with the fraternity’s former San Luis Obispo chapter. The fraternity’s national headquarters dissolved the chapter after its own investigation into Starkey’s death.

Some members of the fraternity began to take Starkey to the hospital on the night he died but ultimately returned him to the frat house to sleep it off. He never woke up.

While specifics of the settlement were not released, the Starkeys said the Illinois-based fraternity is now required to “make fundamental changes in the way it and its chapters operate ... particularly concerning hazing and the availability and misuse of alcohol.”

On Monday, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon spokesman declined to answer questions about the settlement terms. Instead, he referred to the fraternity’s statement saying Sigma Alpha Epsilon has a zero-tolerance policy against hazing and provides members with anti-hazing and risk-management education. It’s not clear whether those programs were prompted by Starkey’s death.

Also included in the settlement was the requirement that the fraternity give parents and students more information “about potential problems and dangers in the fraternity before they decide to join,” the Starkeys wrote.

The Starkeys said they wouldn’t have been able to bring about the changes if the case went to trial because juries can only award monetary sums. The Starkeys sought a change in policy with the suit, not money, they said. Details on whether a monetary sum was awarded were not disclosed.

In fall 2010, the Starkeys reached a settlement with Haithem Ibrahim, one of the former Sigma Alpha Epsilon members involved in the incident. Ibrahim was ordered to pay the family $500,000, according to a report at the time.

The Starkeys declined to comment further because their civil suit against eight of the individual fraternity members allegedly involved in the hazing incident is proceeding to trial this September, they said.

The lawsuit, when it was filed in 2009, named the fraternity and its Cal Poly chapter, as well as Bennett Holden, Zacary Ellis, Matt Silva, Russell Taylor, Ryan Taylor, Jamie Merkler, Christopher Perkins and Adam Marszal. The Starkeys allege four counts of negligence and a violation of Matt’s Law, a California law that allows for lawsuits when injuries or deaths result from hazing. No specific amount of money is being sought.

In summer 2010, four men involved in Starkey’s death were convicted of criminal misdemeanors and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 30 days to six months. Their terms also included probation and community service.

Since their son’s death, the Starkeys have helped ensure immunity for minors who seek medical help after illegally consuming or possessing alcohol, inspired a law for Texas public schools that adds curriculum on alcohol poisoning and binge drinking, and helped start a new rule at Cal Poly that blocks freshmen and transfers from pledging to a fraternity or sorority until at least their second quarter.

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