Police arrest 10 in drinking death of LSU fraternity pledge
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ten people were arrested Wednesday on hazing charges in the death of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge whose blood-alcohol content level was more than six times the legal limit for driving, officials said.
One of the 10 suspects — Matthew Alexander Naquin, 19, of Boerne, Texas — also faces a negligent homicide charge in the death last month of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver, a freshman from Roswell, Georgia, LSU said in a statement.
An autopsy showed Gruver’s blood-alcohol content level at the time of his death was 0.495, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark said Wednesday. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Louisiana is 0.08 percent.
Eight of the suspects are LSU students and were active members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, according to university spokesman Ernie Ballard. He said all 10 turned themselves in to LSU police on Wednesday. The hazing charges against all 10 suspects, whose ages range from 18 to 21, are misdemeanors.
LSU President F. King Alexander said in a statement that the arrests “underscore that the ramifications of hazing can be devastating.”
“Maxwell Gruver’s family will mourn his loss for the rest of their lives, and several other students are now facing serious consequences – all due to a series of poor decisions,” Alexander added.
Gruver died at a Baton Rouge hospital on Sept. 14 after fraternity members found him lying on a couch at the fraternity house and couldn’t tell if he was breathing, police said.
Clark, the coroner, concluded Gruver died of acute alcohol intoxication with aspiration. The autopsy found Gruver inhaled vomit and other fluid into his lungs, said Clark. He ruled the death an accident.
Witnesses told police that the fraternity’s pledges were forced to drink to excess on the night before Gruver’s death, during a game or initiation ritual called “Bible Study” that required pledges to drink if they incorrectly answered questions about the fraternity.
A witness told police that Gruver was “highly intoxicated” when fraternity members laid him on a couch and left the house sometime early on Sept. 14. Around 11 a.m., members found Gruver still on the couch with a weak pulse, police said. Two people drove him to a hospital, where he died later that day.
The fraternity’s national office said it closed the chapter after Gruver’s death.
The nine suspects facing only hazing charges are Zachary Castillo, of Gretna; Sean Paul Gott, of Lafayette; Sean Pennison, of Mandeville; Hudson Kirkpatrick, of Baton Rouge; Elliott Eaton, of New Orleans; Patrick Forde, of Westwood, Massachusetts; Nicholas Tavlli, of Cypress, Texas; Zachary Hall, of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Ryan Isto, who is from Canada. Gott and Forde aren’t enrolled at LSU, according to Ballard.
John McLindon, a lawyer for Naquin, declined to comment on the charges against client “out of respect for (Gruver’s) family.” McLindon said he hasn’t seen any police reports and doesn’t know why his client is the only suspect facing a felony charge of negligent homicide.
“Let’s just wait until the evidence comes in,” he said.
Hall’s attorney, David Bourland, said his 21-year-old client didn’t participate in hazing activities or provide anyone with alcohol on the night before Gruver died. Hall, a junior who lived at the fraternity house, is in a “deep depression” over his friend’s death, his attorney said.
“But my client did not violate any law or code of conduct at LSU,” Bourland added. “He did not do anything that could have contributed to this unfortunate, tragic accident.”
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office will present evidence to a grand jury and could seek additional charges against some of the 10 suspects. Other individuals also could face charges in the case, Moore added.
The maximum sentence for a hazing conviction is 30 days in jail, while negligent homicide is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, according to Moore.
Several pledges told police they received a group text message stating there would be ‘Bible Study’ at the house” at 10 p.m. on Sept. 13. Investigators seized a cellphone belonging to the fraternity member who sent the group text message about the “Bible Study” session.
Police executed search warrants at the fraternity house and at Gruver’s dorm room. Among the items seized from the fraternity house were a duffel bag filled with beer cans, bottles of liquor, a glass smoking pipe, a “pledge test,” cleaning supplies and two strands of white knotted rope, according to a search warrant return.
Police also found devices that may have captured video footage inside the fraternity house “during the times of the events,” a police affidavit says.
“Investigators also learned that there were several text messages sent about (Gruver’s) condition,” the affidavit said.
Police also obtained a warrant to examine Gruver’s phone so they could see who he called or texted before his death.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked leaders of the state’s higher-education system to review their campus policies on hazing, alcohol and drugs following Gruver’s death.
A Penn State fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and 14 of its members face criminal charges over the death of a pledge who was fatally injured after an alcohol-related hazing ritual in February. Sophomore Tim Piazza of Lebanon, New Jersey, became highly intoxicated and later fell several times, including down a long set of basement steps, suffering severe head and abdominal injuries that led to his death two days later.