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Fraternity pays a price for a party that got out of hand

Lambda Phi Epsilon, based off the UCLA campus, was looking for new members. But a fight broke out, people were injured and five have been charged. Now the university is investigating.

October 12, 2009|My-Thuan Tran

The brothers of Lambda Phi Epsilon at UCLA were excited to find the gray-and-teal apartment complex several blocks from campus. They had no house on Fraternity Row, but the complex could serve as their home base.

About a dozen members of the Asian American fraternity moved into eight units in the 600 block of Midvale Avenue before the fall quarter started. In late September, they hosted a housewarming mixer to recruit new members.

"Let us show you how Lambdas throw the sickest house parties in town and experience the social life that you can't experience any where else!" a flier advertised. "It will be a perfect chance for you to meet people from all over Southern California."

That's when the trouble started. After the rush event ended, fraternity members said, the crowd grew in the early hours of Sept. 22.

A fight broke out. One fraternity member was stabbed in the stomach, another student was stabbed in the arm and another hit over the head with a bottle.

Seven people, including three students, were arrested. Four were ultimately charged with attempted murder and aggravated mayhem. One student was charged with being an accessory to aggravated mayhem.

They were "uninvited guests," police said.

Charges against all five suspects include gang enhancements because there is evidence they were affiliated with a gang, said UCLA Police Capt. John Adams, though he said there was no indication that the incident at the fraternity was a gang fight.

The fraternity, which was only recently taken off of suspension after an altercation last fall with members of another fraternity, once again found itself seen in a negative light, which members say was unfairly cast.

"Everyone reads newspapers and acts like we are all gang members," said Kalvin Tsui, 23, fraternity president. "But we are students at UCLA. We're here to take midterms and finals like everyone else. Just because we are in a fraternity doesn't mean we want to start trouble."

Tsui said that fraternity members had tried to get guests to leave the party after police responded to a noise complaint but that people continued to flood in. He said he did not know any of those who started the fight.

"It was a shock," he said. "I've never seen anybody get stabbed, let alone in my own place of residence."

UCLA officials are investigating the incident to see if fraternity members violated any campus policies, said Robert Naples, associate vice chancellor and dean of students. The university has not yet taken disciplinary action, he said.

Unlike older fraternities, Lambda Phi Epsilon chapters are more difficult to oversee because they aren't supervised by a centralized national office, Naples said.

Other Lambda Phi Epsilon chapters in the nationwide fraternity have had problems.

In 2005, 19-year-old Kenny Luong died from head injuries during a tackle football game held at a city park in Irvine to initiate pledges into Lambda Phi Epsilon. During the game, pledges were gang-tackled repeatedly, police said. The fraternity was officially disbanded by UC Irvine in 2007.

In 2003, San Jose State Lambdas were involved in a melee in which one member was fatally stabbed and others hospitalized. Police said about 60 fraternity brothers faced off against rivals from another Asian fraternity.

After the recent stabbing incident, attendance dropped at rush events at UCLA, Tsui said, making it harder to recruit members to the fraternity whose motto is "To Be Leaders Among Men."

"It did put a lot of bad publicity on us," Tsui said. "It made us seem like the bad guys when we were the victims."

Last week, Tsui sat on the steps of UCLA's Kerckhoff Hall, and talked about his experience in the fraternity.

"Before going to UCLA, I was against any type of Greek life," he said. But as a junior transfer who didn't know many people on campus, he was drawn to Lambda Phi Epsilon to network.

"As a transfer, I didn't know what classes to take and much about the whole school," he said. "After joining, I had other people looking out for me and guiding me." Although he graduated last year with a sociology degree, Tsui decided to stay on as president of the fraternity, which has 30 active members. Like many of the others, he is a child of immigrant parents.

That was the genesis of Lambda Phi Epsilon, he said. In 1981, 19 members formed the Asian American fraternity to serve a niche at UCLA.

The fraternity quickly grew. It now has 49 chapters across the country, including nine in California.

It joined the umbrella group for Greek fraternities as the first national Asian American fraternity in 1990.

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my-thuan.tran@latimes.com

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