Police arrest 10 in drinking death of LSU fraternity pledge
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ten people were arrested Wednesday on misdemeanor hazing charges in the death of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge whose blood-alcohol content was more than six times the legal limit for driving, officials said.
One of the 10 suspects — Matthew Alexander Naquin, 19, of Boerne, Texas — also faces a felony negligent homicide charge in the death of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver, a freshman from Roswell, Georgia, who was trying to join Phi Delta Theta.
Witnesses said Naquin singled out Gruver during a hazing ritual involving 18 to 20 pledges the night before he died, forcing him to drink more than other pledges, according to a police report on the Sept. 14th death that was released Wednesday.
Witnesses told police that other pledges were made to drink that night, but Naquin “targeted” Gruver because he was frequently late for events. Naquin apparently didn’t like Gruver, and “forced” him to drink because he was having trouble reciting the Greek alphabet during “Bible Study,” a ritual testing their fraternity knowledge, they said.
One pledge said Gruver was “made to” take at least 10-12 “pulls” of 190-proof Diesel, while other pledges had to drink less of the hard liquor, according to the report.
One fraternity member said he told Naquin and another member to “cut it out” because it was “getting out of hand.” Another said he warned Naquin and the other member to “slow it down” several times, to no avail.
John McLindon, a lawyer for Naquin, declined to comment on these charges “out of respect for (Gruver’s) family.”
“Let’s just wait until the evidence comes in,” he said.
Gruver died at a Baton Rouge hospital after fraternity members found him lying on a couch at the fraternity house around 9 a.m. that Thursday and couldn’t tell if he was breathing, police said. Several fraternity members said they had checked on Gruver “throughout the night,” police said.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark ruled the death an accident, concluding that Gruver died of acute alcohol intoxication, with aspiration: He had inhaled vomit and other fluid into his lungs.
An autopsy showed Gruver’s blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.495 percent, Clark said. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Louisiana is 0.08 percent.
All the suspects were associated with Phi Delta Theta; one left school after Gruver’s death, and eight are still active students, university spokesman Ernie Ballard said. All 10, ages 18 to 21, turned themselves in to LSU police on Wednesday. The fraternity’s national office closed the chapter.
“The ramifications of hazing can be devastating,” LSU President F. King Alexander said in a statement. “Maxwell Gruver’s family will mourn his loss for the rest of their lives, and several other students are now facing serious consequences - all due to a series of poor decisions.”
The other nine suspects are Zachary Castillo, of Gretna; Sean-Paul Gott, of Lafayette; Sean Pennison, of Mandeville; Hudson Kirkpatrick, of Baton Rouge; Elliott Eaton, of New Orleans; Patrick Forde, of Westwood, Massachusetts; Nicholas Taulli, of Cypress, Texas; Zachary Hall, of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Ryan Isto, from Canada. Gott and Forde are no longer enrolled at LSU, Ballard said.
Hall’s attorney, David Bourland, said his 21-year-old client didn’t participate in hazing or provide anyone with alcohol that Wednesday night. He remains in a “deep depression” over his friend’s death, “but my client did not violate any law or code of conduct at LSU,” Bourland said. “He did not do anything that could have contributed to this unfortunate, tragic accident.”
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office will present evidence to a grand jury and could seek additional charges. Hazing is punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Negligent homicide can mean 5 years in prison, Moore said.
Investigators are studying text messages sent and received by the fraternity members and pledges, have learned of possible videos, and have seized a duffel bag filled with beer cans, bottles of liquor, a glass smoking pipe and a “pledge test,” according to search warrant requests and results.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the state’s higher-education leaders to review campus policies on hazing, alcohol and drugs.
A Penn State fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and 14 of its members also face criminal charges over the death of a pledge who was fatally injured falling down stairs after alcohol-related hazing in February.