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Fraternity Suspended as UCLA Probes Incident

April 11, 1998|PATRICK KERKSTRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As investigators pieced together a clearer picture of an alleged UCLA fraternity hazing, school officials barred the group, Omega Sigma Tau, from all campus activities and buildings this week. That is a step sometimes taken prior to expelling an organization.

The suspension follows allegations that an initiation regimen sent three pledges to the hospital after a weekend of fraternity "boot camp." Marshall Lai, the most seriously injured of the pledges, continues to improve and was in good condition at UCLA Medical Center on Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Although police and university administrators stressed that their investigation is ongoing, the suspension will continue until the probe is complete.

"The fact that we've taken action means I have assurance that some of the activities that are alleged to have happened really did," said Dean of Students Robert Naples. Naples is responsible for determining the fraternity's ultimate status.

Omega members have refused to describe the alleged hazing other than to say alcohol was not involved. Members said Friday that a lawyer is representing the fraternity, but those reached said they did not know his or her name.

Fraternity President Kenny Teng did not return repeated phone calls made Friday and throughout the week.

Though police continued to release few details about the alleged hazing, a somewhat more complete account of the initiation is beginning to emerge. "We do have most of the chronology nailed down and the locations," said University Police Capt. Alan Cueba.

Pledges were instructed to take long runs on a beach, do push-ups, sit-ups and leg lifts, and run stairs on UCLA's trademark Janss Steps, Cueba said. The exercises are thought to have taken place over a number of days.

That exertion, combined with what medical experts said must have been massive dehydration, was enough to force Lai and two other pledges to seek medical care. Although one was treated briefly and released, Lai and the other, who was not identified, both sustained kidney damage.

Omega Sigma Tau and UCLA seem to have avoided the worst that hazing can dish out. Since 1973, 56 students, none at UCLA, have died in hazing and initiation-related accidents, according to Hank Nuwer, a Ball State University professor and author of "Broken Pledges," a book on hazing. Four of those died from massive physical overexertion, similar to what the Omega pledges may have gone through, Nuwer said.

Nuwer said that extensive physical conditioning is a "throwback to the '70s." Then, he said, fraternities often demanded physical displays of strength and endurance as a precursor to membership. Intense calisthenics are now less common then massive alcohol consumption, Nuwer said.

"Somehow, it's decided that there's something thrilling or noble in drinking death-defying amounts of alcohol or doing calisthenics until you drop," Nuwer said. "It's a male litmus test. Fraternities think of these hazing pranks as glorious."

UCLA has not been known as a hazing hotbed. Nuwer, who has tracked serious hazing episodes since the 1970s, has no records of violations on the Westwood campus. California has avoided hazing fatalities for almost 15 years.

Cal State Chico student Jeffrey Long was pledging the university's Tau Gamma Theta fraternity when he died in September 1983. Long was run over and dragged along the road for 300 feet by a fraternity member who had been sent to pick the pledge up after he had been left, intoxicated, five miles from campus and told to find his way back.

So far, investigators have found no evidence that alcohol played a role in the alleged Omega hazing.

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