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Piecing Together a Battle of Frats

San Jose police examine events leading up to the deadly melee reportedly involving 60 members of two campus groups, plus 40 other people.

January 25, 2003|John M. Glionna and Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writers

SAN JOSE — When rookie patrolman Kevin Peters arrived at suburban Flickinger Park early Wednesday to investigate a brawl between two feuding college fraternities, he encountered a scene of bloody mayhem with scores of panicked students fleeing in the midnight darkness, according to San Jose police.

Just 45 minutes before his shift's end, Peters stepped from his cruiser at 12:15 a.m. to find so many young people rushing past him that he could not stop them all. Two minutes later, Officers Ken Siegal and Chris Bielecki arrived. All around them, students carried wounded friends to cars that squealed off into the night. Others lay wounded on the blood-stained grass.

Together, the officers detained two dozen people. Later, they teamed up with paramedics to trace blood trails more than a block long -- a grim legacy to an off-campus clash that left several seriously injured and 23-year-old Alam Kim dead from a stab wound to the heart.

San Jose police Friday continued to piece together the events leading up to the battle that reportedly involved about 100 people -- including 60 members of San Jose State's Pi Alpha Phi and Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternities. Both chapters have been suspended by university officials in the wake of the death.

Officials at UC Davis also confirmed Friday that the same tensions seem to have appeared on their campus. Records show that the UC Davis chapters had been at odds over the last year and that the Lambdas were disciplined after an alleged break-in at the Alpha house.

So far, San Jose detectives have interviewed 75 witnesses, some of whom have given conflicting accounts of how two fraternities with a history of bad blood agreed to face off to presumably settle their differences.

Authorities said they were not ready to file charges and have recalled witnesses after checking scores for bloody clothing or knuckle scrapes that could indicate their role in any fight.

"It was a big brawl. Everybody was punching and kicking and ducking; that much we know," said department spokesman Sgt. Steve Dixon. "But some people we've talked to have been evasive and others downright misleading."

Authorities identified one of the injured students as Lambda Phi Epsilon member George Trasmonte, who police said remained in serious condition at San Jose Medical Center late Friday with a stab wound to the upper back. Also hurt were fellow Lambdas Edward Kyoyang, who received a stab wound to the leg; Kevin Jo, who suffered serious cuts to the face; and Mathew Pai, who was knocked unconscious. All but Trasmonte have been released from the hospital.

A former business partner of the slain man said Friday that Kim had gone to the park Wednesday to act as a mediator. Roger Lwin, Kim's partner at Underworld Productions, which sponsored fraternity and sorority events at San Jose State, said Kim had worked on several Alpha parties and knew students from both fraternities.

He was there to "talk people out of doing something violent," according to Lwin, who said he was not at the park that night but had talked to several Lambda members who were. "Somebody started throwing eggs and things got out of hand," he said. "Whoever stabbed Alam was not a fraternity member. Nobody would have done that. They all knew him too well."

San Jose police acknowledged that people other than San Jose students were involved in the fight, but were skeptical about Kim's role as peacemaker.

Said Dixon: "Mediation is best handled during the day, not at some park at midnight with 40 members of two opposing groups standing on either side of you."

A top police official said he believed that most of the fraternity members who congregated at the park expected little more than a fistfight.

"This was like a duel," said Rob Davis, a deputy chief in the department's Bureau of Investigations. "They contacted each other and said, 'Let's get together to settle this.' These were two fraternities, not gangs. In their minds, they thought this was a face-off between gentlemen."

But the dispute turned deadly when several brandished knives and sticks. Police could not say if all the weapons were wielded by members of one fraternity.

Among those detained by San Jose police Wednesday were six Pi Alpha Phi members from UC Santa Cruz, who were reportedly summoned by the San Jose State chapter to take part in the fracas.

On Friday, Santa Cruz officials suspended the fraternity from campus and began an investigation into the actions of the six students, who could face suspension or expulsion if they are found to have violated campus rules.

"They were on the scene, and they were questioned," said Liz Irwin, a UC Santa Cruz spokeswoman. She added that the university's Lambda Phi Epsilon chapter was not disciplined because no members had taken part in the brawl.

San Jose State students say the two fraternities, both predominantly Asian American and known on campus as the "Lambdas" and the "Pineapples," were rivals but not enemies.

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