- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Fraternity leaders at the University of Maryland College Park say they banned drinking in their houses several years ago and have taken other steps to avoid lawsuits like the one filed Monday by the family of Daniel Reardon, a pledge who died of alcohol poisoning last winter because of purported hazing.
The Reardon family filed the $15 million suit against the Phi Sigma Kappa house and two members for purportedly pressuring underage students to drink excessive amounts of alcohol, then waiting two hours before getting medical assistance for their son.
Mr. Reardon, 19, died Feb. 14, a week after he lapsed into an alcohol-induced coma in the fraternity house after drinking large amounts of malt liquor and Jim Beam whiskey at the behest of pledge instructor Brian John McLaughlin, according to the lawsuit.
University administrators notified Phi Sigma Kappa's national headquarters yesterday that they no longer recognize the fraternity and "any group of students or organization affiliated" with it and won't for at least five years.
Fraternity leaders can ask for a review after that time, but "reinstatement is not assured," said John Zacker, the university's director of student discipline.
The lawsuit comes eight days after another student, Brandon James Malstrom, 20, was stabbed to death outside a party in the Old Town section of College Park, a residential neighborhood that's home to many of the school's fraternity and sorority houses.
Mr. Malstrom's death has sparked discussion over the safety of the neighborhood and the need for a College Park police force. Residents, students and officials are scheduled to discuss such issues tonight at City Hall and tomorrow night at the Ritchie Coliseum. The meetings begin at 7 p.m.
But Mr. Reardon's death was the second in a year caused by alcohol or drug overdoses. In September, junior Alexander Klochkoff was found dead of a drug overdose on the porch of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house. Mr. Klochkoff's death, university spokesman George Cathcart said, was the first substance-related death of a student since basketball star Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986.
Roughly 1,400 college students ages 18 to 24 die each year from such alcohol-related injuries as car crashes, according to a recent report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Fraternities in College Park are becoming increasingly cautious, as members must reconsider their safety, and their national headquarters must consider the threat of lawsuits stemming from alcohol abuse and hazing.
Five of the university's 23 registered fraternities have switched to alcohol-free housing in the past five years, Mr. Cathcart said.
But the reasons for banning alcohol go beyond liability, said David L. Westol, executive director of 73-year-old Theta Chi fraternity.
Mr. Westol said that in 1995 Theta Chi leaders banned hazing because of continuing problems with irresponsible drinking. In 1998, he said, they set a five-year goal to remove alcohol in all 42 chapters.
"We were recruiting guys who saw the frat as nothing more than a place to hang out and party," Mr. Westol said. "We're a little less inclined to see the house as party central and more inclined to see its members more involved in campus, being leaders and productive members of their community."
About 65 percent of the houses have implemented the policy or are in the process of doing so. Theta Chi's chapter in College Park implemented the alcohol ban in the spring of 2001, member Jimmy Atkinson said. He also said kegs at the fall and spring barbecues have been replaced by sodas.
"I'm 22 and I cannot drink in my own house," he said. "It's kind of a hassle, but there's always the bars."
Indeed, "risk management" is now a top priority for fraternities nationwide.
"It only takes a brief look across college campuses today to understand that risk management is more important now than ever before," states the Theta Chi Web site.
The fraternity holds many of its parties at rented clubs and restaurants.
"It's a tough transition to go to a dry house," Mr. Atkinson said. "But insurance is going to force everybody to go dry."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide