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2 Students Charged in Fish Death

The UC Santa Cruz fraternity members are accused of taking a valuable and beloved koi from campus pond.

June 07, 2003|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

Two members of a UC Santa Cruz fraternity currently being filmed for an MTV reality series were charged with misdemeanors Friday after a prank that has left many on the campus reeling.

Matthew Cox, 24, and Casey Loop, 22, were charged with misdemeanor grand theft for abducting a golden-ruby koi from a college fishpond. The men also each face a misdemeanor charge of vandalism for slashing other fish in the process.

Authorities allege that in the early hours of May 20, the members of Delta Omega Chi took a rake from the groundskeeper's office and used it to herd into a container the exotic fish, known affectionately as "Goldie" or "Midas."

Some students have reported that the fraternity brothers barbecued the fish, but authorities said that they have confirmed only that the koi was killed.

Santa Cruz County Assistant Dist. Atty. Ellen Bell Campos said that Cox and Loop, who have no criminal history, turned themselves in and expressed remorse. Campos added that the students have tried to compensate the college by purchasing a replacement koi for hundreds of dollars and releasing it into the pond.

"The range [of the criminal penalty] is from volunteer service hours to a year in jail," Campos said. "But they will not get a year because they came forward and took responsibility." They are expected to appear in court on June 27.

The koi, a Japanese fish related to the carp, is valued at $800 to $2,000.

Douglas Zuidema, director of student judicial affairs, said his office is reviewing the incident to decide whether to hold individuals or the entire fraternity responsible. He confirmed that the fraternity, which will appear on MTV's "Fraternity Life" in September, was reprimanded last month by the university for sexual harassment.

If the university finds that the fraternity brothers have stolen and destroyed the koi, they could face suspension or expulsion. Previous behavior will factor into punishment decisions, Zuidema said.

University police are investigating whether others were involved, although the fraternity issued a statement earlier this week disavowing the acts.

"We ... do not condone cruelty to animals, and are fully prepared to reprimand any associate of Delta Omega Chi that may feel otherwise," the statement said. "We, as a fraternity, are truly saddened by the recent occurrences, and hope that this lack of judgment ... does not continue to damage our relationship with the rest of the student body."

MTV officials declined to comment.

Distraught fish lovers fashioned an impromptu memorial at the fountain, a popular lunch spot and destination for children who attend on-campus day care. Handwritten notes with messages such as "Sing in heaven with beautiful scales" sit next to rocks and flowers. A service for the fish is planned for Sunday.

Patrick Knowles, who edits the weekly student newspaper City on a Hill, said the entire campus is upset because many consider the koi pets.

"They're very docile," said Knowles, who passes the fish every day on the way to class.

Cecilia Kerridge, a Porter College office assistant who takes care of the koi, said she started sobbing when she walked up to the pond on the morning after the fish was taken and found black garbage bags and a large knife.

"I almost died," she said. "My heart was pounding. I thought, 'Oh my God. What happened to the fish?' " Kerridge printed signs asking for information and students posted them around campus.

Kerridge said she worries about the well-being of the 15 or so other fish in the pond. "The other fish are spooked and stay in a corner of the pond," she said.

Admirers said the 18-inch fish ruled the pond in the courtyard of Porter College. The fact that it was a "particularly glistening specimen ... may have led to its selection by the students who caught, killed and ate the fish," said David Swanger, a professor of education and creative writing who donated the fish about four years ago.

The incident renewed questions about whether the school with the counter-culture reputation needs fraternities and sororities.

Porter College students wonder if they were specifically targeted by the fraternity, said Jesse Thorn, a senior who has lived at Porter for three years.

"Of all the colleges at UCSC, Porter College is definitely the most countercultural," Thorn said. "It's definitely a haven for indie rockers and the kinds of people who would most bitterly oppose the idea of a fraternity."

Sheiva Rezvani, a resident advisor at Porter, is so upset she plans to make a documentary about the koi killing.

"This thing is, this whole incident is a misrepresentation of our campus and our community," she said. "People are going to watch MTV and think it's cool [to have a fraternity like this at UC Santa Cruz] when before this, no one even knew it existed."

UC Santa Cruz spokeswoman Elizabeth Irwin said approximately 2% of the total student body participates in fraternities or sororities.

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