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Fraternities Suspended After Deadly Brawl

San Jose State president says those who were involved in the clash will be expelled.

January 24, 2003|John M. Glionna and Chris O'Connell Special to The Times | Special to The Times

SAN JOSE — Both fraternities involved in Wednesday's deadly predawn melee will be suspended and those found to have participated in the violence will be expelled, San Jose State University President Robert L. Caret said Thursday.

"The university will not tolerate thuggish or ganglike behavior from any of its students," Caret said. "Those responsible for it have no place on our campus."

Police said that Alam Kim, 23, died of a single stab wound in the heart and that several other people were wounded when members of the university's Pi Alpha Phi and Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternities brawled at a neighborhood park shortly after midnight. Police said that, although they had questioned dozens of participants, there had been no arrests.

As many as 100 people may have been involved in the brawl, including some students recruited from the Pi Alpha Phi chapter at UC Santa Cruz, investigators said. Several of the participants were armed with sticks and knives.

Officials said the brawl may have stemmed from an argument Monday night at a billiard hall in nearby Santa Clara.

"There has been a long-standing rivalry" between the two Asian American fraternities, San Jose Police Sgt. Steve Dixon said Thursday. "It doesn't look like any of these folks are hard-core gang members, but it has all the earmarks of a gang fight."

Dixon said that statements had been taken from 71 people and that some bloody clothing was recovered from the Pi Alpha Phi house Thursday morning.

A woman who lives next to Pi Alpha Phi said Thursday that she heard threats being shouted outside that fraternity house several hours before the brawl, although she didn't know who made them or to whom they were directed.

"I heard things like, 'Well, I'm coming back, and I'm going to kill you,' " said Lucia Fagundes, a 43-year-old telemarketer.

"For a long time, there has been fighting, drinking and partying" at Pi Alpha Phi, Fagundes said. "It starts on Thursday and continues through the weekend."

Fagundes said she had called police at least half a dozen times.

Each time, she said, the noise quieted down, only to resume after an hour or two.

Six blocks away, beside the Lambda Phi Epsilon house, neighbor Denise Smith told a different story.

She said that, although students often congregated and drank outside the house, there had never been any noise problems.

"I like them as neighbors," she said. "They look out for us as much as we look out for them."

Caret said the university would review its affiliations with all fraternities and sororities.

"Yes, they have parties and get neighbors upset," he said. "But these fraternities have been a very positive influence on campus."

Caret said every effort would be made to determine exactly what happened late Tuesday and early Wednesday, and why.

"I can't even conjure up in my mind what it would take to get 60 to 100 students, presumably well-educated individuals, and get them into a gang or 'Lord of the Flies' or pack mentality," Caret said. "It's baffling why someone didn't stand up and say, 'This is crazy.' "

He said the incident will tarnish the school's reputation.

"As university president, I hate it when a stigma like this gets put on a campus like ours, because we don't deserve it," he said. "But we will live with it, and we will live with it a long time."

On campus Thursday, several students said they had not heard about the brawl. Those who had said they realized that violence could erupt anywhere.

"No matter what anyone says, this school is not a safe haven," said Chara Gorman, 21. "There's always a risk."

Attempts to discuss the incident with members of the two fraternities were rebuffed Thursday. One young man, retreating into the Pi Alpha Phi house, told an inquiring reporter, "Call my lawyers."

Members of Kim's family declined comment.

Kim, a member of Lambda Phi Epsilon, worked weekends at his father's ABC Cellular shop in San Jose

Michelle Vu, 55, who owns the hair salon next door, said the young man was a "nice boy" who earned the respect of the neighborhood for helping out in the store, which has been closed since the incident.

Joon Hee Lee, 24, a former member of the UCLA chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon, objected to those likening the brawl to a gang fight, saying such characterizations perpetuate stereotypes of Asian youths as gang members.

"We do so much for the community, but no one talks about that," Lee said. "This was an isolated incident."

Founded in 1857, San Jose State is the oldest institution of higher education in California. Asian Americans are the largest ethnic group on campus, making up 32.2% of the student body of about 30,000.

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Glionna is a Times staff writer; O'Connell is a special correspondent. Times staff writers Caitlin Liu, Eric Malnic and Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.

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