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COLLEGIAN SAYS HAZING LEFT HIM IN THE HOSPITAL

By David Salvin December 15th, 2001

The follow article is about a lawsuit Mr. Salvin filed.

UCI pledge is suing fraternity and 13 members over
allegations including assault and battery.


December 15, 2001

By EMILY BITTNER
The Orange County Register

A UCI student who hoped to join a fraternity is accusing his prospective brothers of hazing him so badly during an initiation ritual last year that he had to be hospitalized and alleging that fellow initiates had to beg members to call an ambulance.

Jeff Warden, 20, is suing 13 members of Beta Theta Pi and the fraternity's national organization. He is seeking damages on allegations of assault, battery, emotional distress and negligence. "These guys were to me people that I could see myself being friends with for life," Warden said in his lawyer's office in Lake Forest. "That weekend, I was scared for my life. I thought I was going to die."

Both the fraternity's national organization and the University of California, Irvine, are investigating the allegations. Warden's lawyer said police were not notified, so a criminal investigation was never pursued. One fraternity member named in the lawsuit denied that any hazing occurred that weekend or before. "That has never happened," said Cory Halbardier, a senior mechanical-engineering major who said he was in Big Bear that weekend.  "If it did, I wouldn't have joined."

Other fraternity members named in the suit, filed last month in Orange County Superior Court, did not return telephone calls. The national fraternity has published guidelines against hazing, but Warden's lawyer, David J. Salvin, said: "They seemingly took the guidelines against hazing as a blueprint for what to do."

Warden, two other pledges and several Beta Theta Pi members left the UCI campus for a retreat at Big Bear on Friday, Dec. 8, 2000, Salvin said. During the next 28 hours, the members forced Warden and the other initiates to drink alcohol, denied them water, deprived them of sleep and made them simulate sexual acts with each other, Warden said.

Warden, who celebrated his 19th birthday during the initiation weekend, said friends told him that he lost consciousness and was twitching on the ground after exposure to low temperatures, excessive exercise and alcohol.  One pledge said he had to "beg" fraternity members to call an ambulance and that they left Warden unconscious on the ground for at least half an hour. Medical reports from Bear Valley Community Hospital, where he stayed overnight, said he suffered "continuous seizures" that Saturday night.

Warden said he lost his driver's license because doctors are required to report any seizure victims to the Department of Motor Vehicles. For the past year, he has spent about $10,000 getting medicine, MRIs, EKGs and CT scans from neurologists to prove that he could drive again. Warden said he has no prior history of seizures and has suffered none since the initiation. "I was put through terror that night and those days," said Warden, a sophomore film-studies major. "It took me a long time to talk to anyone about it. ... Now it's hard for me to let people get involved in my life."

If the allegations are true, the UCI chapter could be sanctioned or closed  and individual members expelled from the fraternity, said Stephen Becker, administrative secretary for the national fraternity.  Beta Theta Pi has yanked about 15 chapters from U.S. universities in the past three or four years because of hazing incidents and alcohol violations, Becker said.

Forty to 50 hazing incidents a year are reported to Hank Nuwer, author of four books on the subject. He learns about the cases mostly from campus security or news reports because school officials often handle the incidents privately, he said. Since 1971, 65 people have been reported killed in hazing incidents. Of those, 41 were related to alcohol and the vast majority involved fraternities.

"It's all group-think. They deceive themselves and the people around them and they're not aware of the consequences," Nuwer said. "This (hazing) is terrible behavior, but they thought it was ordinary. No one should think this is ordinary."
Warden said he hopes to help put an end to similar hazing incidents. "Someone should never have to go through that," he said. "I could've died, and I almost did die."


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