Last Edited: Saturday, 08 Nov 2008, 10:11 PM EST Created: Saturday, 08 Nov 2008, 3:22 PM EST
NEWARK, Del. -- Newark police are looking into the
possibility of an alcohol overdose as part of the investigation of a University
of Delaware freshman's death.
Freshman found at frat party
An autopsy Sunday may determine whether a college student from Kendall Park, N.J., died of alcohol poisoning.
Eighteen-year-old Brett Griffin was a freshman at the University of Delaware.
Police found him early Saturday at an off-campus house where the fraternity he was pledging was hosting a party.
Griffin later died at a nearby hospital.
Alcohol overdose was the preliminary cause of death. A medical examiner will have to make the final determination.
The News Journal
Former girlfriend Melissa Feldman knew how important pledging Sigma Alpha Mu was to Brett Griffin, but she still warned the 18-year-old of the potential dangers of fraternities.
"He wanted to do it to meet people, make friends and fit in," said Feldman, a freshman at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J. "I had warned him a million times about how bad fraternities are, and I was so worried about him joining."
The University of Delaware freshman died early Saturday of a suspected alcohol overdose while attending an off-campus party. Police found Griffin, of Kendall Park, N.J., unconscious on the floor just before 3 a.m. Saturday when they arrived at a house in the second block of Annabelle St. where several fraternity members lived.
Feldman last heard from Griffin early Friday evening before he went to the party. The pair dated during their senior year at South Brunswick High School, although Feldman said she had a crush on him since freshman year. She said she and Griffin took a break when they left for college, but the pair remained close, talking every day and planning to see each other over Thanksgiving break.
Feldman learned of his death at 6 a.m. Saturday.
"I was screaming and crying and fell to the floor. I was in complete shock," she said. "I loved him, and he cared so much about me and everyone."
Feldman, who described Griffin as smart, funny and friendly to everyone, wants to find out more details as to why Griffin would drink that much alcohol and what exactly went on at the party.
Newark police are conducting interviews of the 40 people who were in the home early Saturday and are waiting on a toxicology report before determining the cause of death.
"It's hard to believe that he could have drank that much for this to happen," said Laura Pantin, a UD freshman. "Everyone drinks. Everyone parties. But it just doesn't get to that."
Pantin, who has known Griffin since seventh grade, said she's shocked.
Tommy Quigley, Griffin's best friend, said Griffin never seemed like someone who would join a fraternity.
"He never went out and partied a lot in high school. It really wasn't his thing. He was never a big drinker. He was always the one taking care of people," said Quigley, a freshman at Millersville (Pa.) University.
In a letter released on the university's Web site Monday, UD President Patrick Harker said once Newark police have completed their investigation, the university will determine if there were violations of its Code of Conduct and will take appropriate action.
The university's student Code of Conduct warns that students who host or attend off-campus functions that include alcohol and drugs could face sanctions if they are found to have violated the law. Students who have knowledge of violations of the Code of Conduct and do not remove themselves from the situation also may face consequences.
Like all other first-year students, Griffin would have been required to complete a three-hour online education course called AlcoholEdu. The program focuses on students' attitudes toward drinking and the effect it has on their friends and studies.
Matt Robertson, Griffin's roommate in McKean Hall, said Griffin was really excited about joining Sigma Alpha Mu and becoming a part of the brotherhood.
"I got the impression that he was trying to become a big partyer and be in the college scene and fit in," said Robertson, of Bergen County, N.J.
On Monday, notes bearing messages such as "Rest in Peace" and "Brett, I miss you" decorated the door of 219A -- the room he shared with Robertson for more than two months.
Griffin, who had a passion for music, often played the Red Hot Chili Peppers' music on his acoustic guitar in his dorm room, Robertson said. Though Griffin hadn't declared a major, he was interested in engineering and nutrition and always made time to study, Robertson said. Since the pair were pledging separate fraternities, their paths didn't always cross, but Robertson said they often ate in the cafeteria, walked to class and played intramural dodgeball together.
"He was just an all-around good person," Robertson said.
Newark police are asking anyone with information about the case to contact Detective Andrew Rubin at 366-7110, ext. 135, or email@example.com.
Kendall Park teen
dies at college fraternity party
SOUTH BRUNSWICK - Family and friends are mourning the death of an 18- year-old Kendall Park native who recently died at a fraternity party.
Brett Griffin graduated from South Brunswick Township High School earlier this year and was pledging Sigma Alpha Mu when he died at a home outside of the University of Delaware on Saturday.
Lt. Brian Henry, of the Newark, Del., police department, said that the medical examiner would determine the cause of death when the toxicology report is complete in a few weeks. No signs of trauma were found on his body.
"We don't know the cause of death yet," Henry said. "Right now we are working on the assumption that it was alcohol poisoning."
Newark police received a call for help and were dispatched to 28 Annabelle Street at 2:52 a.m. The college freshman was in cardiac arrest when medical personnel arrived and they were unable to revive him.
Griffin lived on campus in a dorm and the party he attended was held at a house outside of campus, where some fraternity members reside. Police are waiting for the toxicology report and it is too soon to tell whether charges would be filed against anyone related to providing alcohol to a minor.
There were 40 partygoers at the house during the incident. Police had no record of prior complaints or noise violations at the house since March 2007.
"I ran a premise history and I wasn't able to find anything similar to this," Henry said.
Tim Matheny, the principal of South Brunswick Township High School, said Tuesday that everything was being done to ensure that students and faculty receive the support they need. George Scott, head of the Middlesex County Traumatic Loss Coalition, met with Griffin's former teammates on the wrestling team to help them process their emotions, Matheny said.
"Yesterday, we had counselors available throughout the day for any students who felt a particular impact by Brett's passing," Matheny said.
"In addition, we did have a faculty meeting immediately prior to the start of school yesterday where I offered support to our staff and an outline of a plan to support the school community at this time," he said. "We pulled together our high school crisis team Sunday afternoon. We met for about an hour to plan our response to the loss."
Aaron Girson, executive director of the Sigma Alpha Mu, released a statement on the fraternity's Web site, extending condolences to Griffin's family and friends.
"Our thoughts go out to Mr. Griffin's family and to his friends in the fraternity and campus community," Girson said. "His loss is a blow to his friends in the Delta Lambda Chapter."
Contact Michael Acker at
Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 9:09 AM EST
Friends of a South Brunswick teen who lost his life to
what police say was likely an alcohol overdose during his first semester at the
University of Delaware said the young man was caring, funny and popular among
Patrick O’Shea, 18, also graduated with Mr. Griffin.
”It has been hard to listen to the old recordings we
made,” Mr. O’Shea said. “I was waiting for him to come home for Thanksgiving so
we could jam. The worst part is knowing that isn’t going to happen.”
A mass of Christian burial will be held today (Thursday)
at St. Cecilia’s Church in Monmouth Junction. Burial will follow in Resurrection
Park in Piscataway.
Students need to consider the potential of dying from extreme alcohol consumption.
Over the weekend, Brett Griffin, a freshman at the University of Delaware died at an off-campus fraternity party. The 18-year-old from Kendall Park, Middlesex County, appears to have died from alcohol poisoning.
Newark, Del., police went to the home just before 3 a.m. Saturday morning and found Griffin lying on the floor, unconscious and in cardiac arrest. Emergency responders tried to revive Griffin, but he died in the ambulance on the way to Christiana Hospital.
The home where the party was held is rented by several members of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Griffin was a pledge in that fraternity and was excited about joining a fraternity, his former high school girlfriend said.
Unfortunately, this sad tale has been told too many times. In March 2007, Rider University freshman Gary DeVercelly died in almost the exact same way -- he was at a fraternity party and drank so much alcohol that his body shut down. He died a day after the party in a hospital intensive care unit. DeVercelly's blood-alcohol level when he was brought to the hospital was .426, more than five times the legal limit for drivers in New Jersey.
The University of Delaware had an alcohol education program in place for all freshmen that Griffin would have participated in. These days, most public and private colleges have such programs for freshmen, who are particularly vulnerable to the lure of binge drinking, since most are living away from their parents for the first time ever and are eager to experiment and have fun.
These deaths should serve as a reminder, however, that alcohol education for teens must not only stress the dangers of driving while drunk, but also the dangers of drinking to extreme levels and risking death.
These are just two local cases of that happening. Unfortunately, such deaths happen on campuses across the country far too often.
Colleges and parents need to be sure to reinforce with kids the dangerous consequences that come with drinking too much. And college students need to consider these consequences each time they spend a night drinking.
NEWARK -- Before police arrived at the off-campus party where freshman Brett Griffin died early last Saturday of a suspected alcohol overdose, officers had responded to four other parties and made eight alcohol-related arrests.
The call volume was typical for a weekend at the University of Delaware.
Here, as in many college towns, when it comes to drinking "the whole point is oblivion.
"It's not to go out and be social and sip a drink. Drinking to get drunk is the goal now," said Greg Chute, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark.
Delaware's problem of underage drinking is concentrated on and around the UD campus, statewide crime reports show, and it's one of the biggest issues Newark and UD police officers confront.
Since June 2006, those two agencies have reported nearly 1,500 incidents of underage drinking, more than 40 percent of the statewide total, according to data from the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, a database that includes crime reports from every law enforcement agency in the state.
On a typical Saturday night, more than half of the underage-drinking incidents in the state are handled by Newark or UD police officers. In a swath thick with trees and student housing, and less than eight square miles in size, the two agencies deal with more underage drinking than the state police, New Castle County police, Dewey Beach police and Rehoboth Beach police combined, the data show.
Though police and university officials can't stop the flow of alcohol in a college town, they try to control the parties as much as possible and discourage underage and binge drinking.
"Would we like to not have these parties happen? Yes. But we have to be realistic about this. You're not going to stop it, so how do you do your best to control it?" said Newark police Lt. Brian Henry.
Michael Gilbert, UD's vice president for student affairs, said the university has increased school sanctions to try to curb the behavior.
"We have to set high expectations," Gilbert said. "We have to be an institution that holds people accountable so they understand it's not just lip service."
Underage drinking accounts for 16 percent of the crimes investigated by UD officers and 5 percent of those investigated by Newark, compared with less than half of one percent handled by all other law enforcement agencies, state data show.
Incidents of underage drinking in Newark spike in September and, to a lesser degree, October. Those two months account for 40 percent of the city's annual total, the data show.
"In terms of college towns, this sort of thing has been going on for 400 years or so," said Blake Gumprecht, associate professor and chairman of the University of New Hampshire's geography department.
"Drinking by college students in college towns is about the most reoccurring theme in the history of college towns that there is," said Gumprecht, a Wilmington native, whose examination of university life, "The American College Town," was published this month by University of Massachusetts Press.
The book includes a chapter on Newark and the prickly relations between students and residents: "towns and gowns."
Newark resident Ron Smith remembers the early morning several years ago when he witnessed an intoxicated woman urinating in front of his Kells Avenue home.
"The drinking culture is so pervasive," he said.
A city with a drinking problem
While an official cause of death has not yet been determined, Griffin's death illustrates how widespread the problem of alcohol is for UD students.
"UD's binge drinking rate is considerably above the national average," said Steve Martin, a senior scientist at UD's Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies.
In 2005, 60 percent of UD students binged, which is defined as four drinks in a row for women and five for men at least once during a two-week period. That figure compared with 44 percent of students nationally. Though no recent surveys have been released, Martin said, UD remains a "high binge-drinking campus."
That Newark has a drinking problem is neither new nor surprising. And this hardly is the first time it's led to a newspaper headline.
On March 7, 1974, following a mass streaking event, almost 4,000 people gathered on Main Street near the Deer Park Tavern looting liquor stores, breaking streetlights, ripping trash cans from sidewalks and pelting police with rocks and bottles. According to Gumprecht's book, 42 Newark police officers plus 193 officers from four other law enforcement agencies tried to break up the crowd, ultimately firing tear gas into the crowd. Thirteen people -- including 10 police officers -- were injured, and 11 people were arrested.
More recently, in 1995, UD freshman Robert Keeper, who had been drinking, died after punching out his dormitory window and falling 13 floors.
In 2004, freshman Rachel Payne, 18, was struck by a train and killed while walking home from a party. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.
Every year, hundreds of students flood South Chapel Street for "Chapel Fest," drinking in excess and often erupting in violence, making it difficult for police to control.
Not only does binge drinking endanger students, it impacts the quality of life of permanent Newark residents.
Loud parties rattle windows and hanging picture frames. Beer bottles and red plastic cups litter front lawns and sidewalks. Noisy, late-night foot traffic startles neighbors awake.
"If you're not going out 'til 11 at night, you tend to forget that everyone else is usually asleep," Smith said.
Alice Shurtleff, who has lived on West Park Place for 40 years, has seen many single-family homes on the street convert over the years into student rentals. After having several plants disappear from her front porch and a hammock stolen from her backyard, the 78-year-old doesn't put anything outside anymore that could be lifted or destroyed.
"I would personally like to see students having a little more consideration for their neighbors. As a student, you share the neighborhoods. You're not here alone," Smith said.
The limits of the law
Police are limited in their ability to curb the problem. The law dictates when police can enter a party house. Police can break up parties if an officer receives a complaint or observes a noise violation or disorderly conduct. But upon entering a house party, an officer can only ask for identification from the tenants and those whom officers have reasonable suspicion to be under 21.
"It's difficult to distinguish between someone who is 20 and 21 years old," Henry said. "At a college party, we have to balance infringing on people's freedom versus enforcing the law. We can't disregard their rights just by trying to enforce alcohol violations."
On any given weekend night, six officers are on duty from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., with an additional officer working from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Seven more officers are on duty from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Henry said the police department's first priority is anything involving the danger or safety of a human life. Controlling parties and underage drinking, however, is more of a priority for Newark police than most other law enforcement agencies because it has such an effect on the quality of life of the city's residents.
"People should be able to be in their homes at night and not be disturbed from what's going on outside," Henry said.
In an effort to increase alcohol enforcement, Newark police take advantage of a yearly $30,000 Delaware Office of Highway Safety grant called Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws that allows off-duty officers to work on an overtime basis from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. These officers are solely dedicated to responding to party complaints and patrolling for alcohol violations in densely populated student areas such as Cleveland Avenue, University Courtyard Apartments and South Chapel Street. To spread the money over the course of the full school year, police run the program during peak times -- from early September to the end of October and mid-March to the end of May.
So, in the early hours of Nov. 8, when Brett Griffin attended an off-campus party at 28 Annabelle Street, no extra police were on duty. When paramedics showed up at 2:53 a.m., they found the 18-year-old unconscious and in cardiac arrest with 40 people packed inside the house. They called Newark police for backup, but the eight officers on duty were responding to other calls.
According to police records, two were breaking up another party. One was in the police station working on paperwork, and another was containing a prisoner. One was following a car chase, and three had found weapons in a car during a traffic stop.
When Newark officers couldn't respond immediately, UD police arrived at the Annabelle Street house at 3:05 a.m. Newark officers arrived at 3:37 a.m.
Griffin later died in Christiana Hospital. Determination of an official cause of death is pending a toxicology report, which could take up to six weeks. Officers are also interviewing the 40 partygoers.
No one was arrested at the party that night for any alcohol-related violations. That doesn't preclude police from bringing charges in the coming weeks, Henry said.
Henry said Newark needs more officers and is hopeful they will receive five more next year. But that's contingent on the approval of the city's proposed budget. Two of those five new officers would be dedicated to alcohol enforcement, he said.
A new partnership with UD police also could help. Beginning Oct. 31 of this year, UD police agreed to assist Newark police with any off-campus party complaint.
"Yes the parties are taking place outside of UDPD jurisdiction, but of course they usually involve UD students," said UD Public Safety Director Albert "Skip" Homiak. "So of course we have an interest."
University gets tough
University officials also are trying to deal with the problem through tougher school discipline.
Prior to 1989, UD disciplined only students who committed crimes or violated the school's Code of Conduct on campus. But as more students moved off-campus into houses, UD received significant pressure from city officials and residents to take responsibility of its students' off-campus behavior.
With the shift in housing, UD began holding students accountable for their behavior off-campus through its student judicial system, a policy that no other U.S. university at the time practiced, according to Gumprecht's research. At the same time, Newark and UD police began turning over names to UD's judicial affairs office whenever they arrested a student off campus.
"In the case of Newark, there have been some things that have been done locally that I think have worsened the problem," Gumprecht said, pointing to a university crackdown on drinking on campus that he said has made living off-campus more attractive. "What the university has done is sort of relocated the problem. They take it from a situation in university-run residence halls, where there's at least some oversight, to houses and apartments where there's no oversight until police come."
In 1996, UD became one of six universities nationwide to receive a five-year $770,000 grant funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Medical Association to curb binge drinking by changing the norms, attitudes, policies and practices surrounding alcohol. Most of the money was spent on educational programs, a public-relations campaign and the creation of nonalcoholic social opportunities for students, said Nancy Nut Chase, director of UD's student wellness center, WellSpring. In 2001, the grant was extended for another five years.
Chase, however, said UD has lost some ground in the battle against binge drinking since the grant funding expired. Prevention needs to be a priority every year because there are new students coming in each year, Martin said.
In 1997, UD implemented the "three strikes you're out rule" by which students who violate the school's alcohol policies a third time are suspended for at least a year.
Also that year, UD began sending letters home to parents when a student violated the Code of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct warns that students who host or attend off-campus functions that include alcohol and drugs could face sanctions if they are found to have violated the law. Students who have knowledge of violations and do not remove themselves from the situation may face consequences, too.
In the past three years, 5,164 students have gone through UD's judicial system. Of those cases, 1,731 were off-campus violations, almost half of which were alcohol-related.
According to UD, all but 36 of those students who committed alcohol violations received sanctions, which range from disciplinary probation to expulsion.
Gilbert said once Newark police have completed their investigation of last weekend's death, the university will determine if there were violations of its Code of Conduct at the Annabelle Street house party and act appropriately.
In 2005, UD received a four-year, $400,000 grant from the federal government to fund alcohol screening and intervention programs on campus.
UD hired an outreach coordinator who conducts alcohol-awareness programs for student organizations and a substance-abuse counselor who works with students at WellSpring. A student who commits a second alcohol-related offense is required to receive a free substance-abuse assessment from WellSpring.
Beginning in the fall of 2006, all UD freshmen were required to complete a three-hour online education course called AlcoholEdu. The program focuses on students' attitudes toward drinking and the effect it has on their friends and studies.
And just this fall, UD purchased EChug, an interactive Web-based assessment of drinking habits. The online tool, which is available to all students, assesses how much money the individual student is spending on alcohol, how many calories are being consumed from the alcohol and compares the student's habits with others in their peer group.
While the Making Over Substance Abuse Intervention On Campus grant expires in May, UD has committed to continuing to fund the outreach and intervention efforts that were created as a result of the grant, Chase said.
'Nothing is going to stop it'
Despite all these efforts, UD students are still drinking and throwing rowdy parties.
"College students have been drinking for as long as there have been colleges," Gumprecht said. "You're not going to stop it. Nothing is going to stop it."
To demystify the consumption of alcohol in college, Gumprecht suggests lowering the drinking age below 21.
"We in the United States treat alcohol and young people differently than most people on Earth," he said. "The basic fact of the matter is you are not going to keep young people from drinking. There's no solution to this problem."
Even if students don't drink in high school, studies show, they will start drinking in the first few weeks at college, Chase said.
"There's this impression in society that it's a rite of passage ... that this is what you do in college," she said.
Drinking and attending parties provides an easy way for students to feel like they are making friends and fitting in, Chase said.
"And until we find other ways to help [students] discover they can have that level of engagement and bond with their peers in other ways than partying, we are going to continue to battle this," she said.
Teagan Gregory, UD's Student Government Association president, said students need to be responsible for themselves and act like adults.
"Unfortunately, a lot of students don't know when to call it quits," he said. "Being in college doesn't put you into a protective bubble."
Chase advised students to avoid drinking games, which cause the rapid consumption of large amounts of alcohol, and to not participate in the 21st birthday ritual of having 21 drinks.
"Drinking large amounts of alcohol rapidly can cause someone to have an alcohol overdose," she said.
Newark City Council member Paul Pomeroy said students need to take more personal responsibility for themselves and their friends.
"It's nearly impossible for the police to know what's happening in every home around Newark," he said. "What ultimately happens is, kids need to look out for each other."
Chase said students should not be afraid to call for help when their friends are close to being in an overdosed state. Warning signs include a person who is unable to be roused, their skin turning blue, vomiting and shallow breathing, usually less than 12 breaths per minute.
"We want our students to know when to intervene to help their friends, but we also want them to think about not binge drinking anymore," she said. "There's just no reason to drink so much to risk your life."
March 28, 2009
Six University of Delaware fraternity brothers and pledges have been arrested on alcohol and drug charges in connection with a party at which a fellow student passed out and subsequently died. The six now face additional consequences from the school -- including possible expulsion.
Family and friends of Brett Griffin, the 18-year-old who died last November after an off-campus fraternity party, say those consequences are important but do little to ease their loss.
Losing Griffin has "devastated" his family, who said in a statement that he "could and should have been saved."
"We are encouraged that the police and attorney general intend to do their jobs by seeking to hold some of those responsible for Brett's death criminally responsible," said a statement from his parents, Timothy and Juliann Griffin. "Ultimately, we hope that all of those persons responsible for Brett's death will be made to account to the fullest extent of the law."
News of the charges did little to console Kristine Drews, 18, a high-school friend of Griffin's.
"No matter which way you look at it, it's a really bad situation; it stinks," Drews said. "No matter what is done to whoever, it was done, it happened and I still lost someone really close to me."
Griffin, a high school wrestler and guitar player from Kendall Park, N.J., was found unconscious and in cardiac arrest Nov. 8 on the floor of a house in the first block of Annabelle Street in Newark.
He later died at Christiana Hospital of suspected alcohol poisoning. The manner of death was ruled accidental.
The students, all fraternity members or pledges of UD's Sigma Alpha Mu chapter, which Griffin was pledging when he died, were arrested last week.
Newark police spokesman Lt. Brian Henry said the charges stem from information gathered during the investigation into Griffin's death. But, he emphasized, "the charges do not imply direct culpability in Mr. Griffin's death."
• Michael J. Bassett, 20, of Great Neck, N.Y. He was charged March 20 with providing alcohol to a minor, criminal solicitation, possessing marijuana with intent to deliver, maintaining a dwelling for drug sales, possessing drug paraphernalia and conspiracy. He was released on $5,100 unsecured bail.
• Travis Fiume, 20, of Closter, N.J. He was charged March 19 with providing alcohol to a minor, criminal solicitation and conspiracy. He was released on $3,000 unsecured bail.
• Justin Seeney, 20, of White Plains, N.Y. He was charged March 19 with underage possession of alcohol and possessing drug paraphernalia. He was released on $2,000 unsecured bail.
• Michael J. Ciccarelli, 20, of North Bellmore, N.Y. He was charged March 19 with underage possession of alcohol. He was released on $100 unsecured bail.
• Henry Vieluf, 19, of Blauvelt, N.Y. He was charged March 19 with possession of drug paraphernalia. He was released on $1,000 unsecured bail.
• Joseph Ciarletta, 19, of the Bronx, N.Y. He was charged March 19 with underage consumption of alcohol. He was released on $100 unsecured bail.
The drug charges against Bassett are felonies. The rest of the charges are misdemeanors.
A police investigation determined Bassett and Fiume were the fraternity's social chairmen and collected money from members for the party at which Griffin was found. Bassett allegedly gave the money to an unidentified fraternity brother who was of legal drinking age to buy alcohol, which was brought back to the house and consumed by the party guests, more than 100 of whom attended and some of whom were underage, police said.
When police officers searched the house -- which was shared by seven roommates, all Sigma Alpha Mu members -- on Nov. 8, they found 120 grams of marijuana, $90 cash, a scale, smoking paraphernalia, plastic baggies and a list of people who appeared to owe money in a locked drawer belonging to Bassett.
In a search of Seeney's bedroom, officers found a "bud grinder" used to process marijuana and an open bottle of whiskey.
Officers also found beer in Ciccarelli's bedroom and a metal pipe and a bud grinder in Vieluf's bedroom.
The investigation is continuing, Henry said.
"We know that there were more people in the house who have not been interviewed," Henry said.
School sanctions may follow
UD officials were waiting for Newark police to file charges before determining whether any students would face disciplinary action. Both the school and Sigma Alpha Mu's national governing body placed the UD chapter on indefinite suspension immediately after Griffin's death.
University spokesman John Brennan said the school's judicial process has been initiated and that administrators will conduct their own investigation based on information provided by police. Details of the judicial process are kept confidential, Brennan said.
"We take the matter very seriously," Brennan said.
The university's student Code of Conduct warns that students who host or attend off-campus functions that include alcohol and drugs could face sanctions if they are found to have violated the law.
The Code of Conduct also gives UD officials the right to suspend or expel students facing charges, specifically "when the crime involves an act of violence, the sale, manufacture or delivery of drugs or any other conduct that is egregiously offensive to the University's mission."
On Friday, the last day of classes before UD's spring break, friends were just beginning to learn that charges had been filed against Griffin's fraternity brothers.
"Something needed to be done," said UD freshman Laura Pantin, 18. Pantin and Griffin had been friends since junior high. "But I think there's no going back to what happened because someone died."
Pantin thinks UD is "pretty strict" on students who break rules regarding alcohol or drugs. But she would like to see more attention paid to off-campus parties and reports of hazing by fraternities.
"Every fraternity does it, even though they might not call it hazing," Pantin said. "I think that's completely ridiculous."
Brett 'did not need to die'
Police have not indicated that hazing, which is also a violation of UD's Code of Conduct, played a role in Griffin's death. But family and friends have said they warned Griffin about the potential dangers of joining a fraternity.
"Brett, like so many others at colleges across the country, did not need to die in a dangerous fraternity ritual," his family wrote in Friday's statement. "His death could have been prevented."
Newark puts extra police officers on the street during spring and fall weekends -- peak college party times -- to respond to noise complaints and patrol for alcohol violations. Beginning last fall, UD police agreed to assist Newark police with off-campus party complaints.
Gatherings on Annabelle Street, an area popular with student renters, have been "a little more subdued" since Griffin died, said neighbor Vaughan Jaquette. But Jaquette, one of the few nonstudents living on the street, doesn't expect that to last.
"Next fall, when all new kids move in, it will be back to normal," he said. "That's not going to change, that's part of a college town."
Six arrests made in
death of Kendall Park teen
The Newark Police Department announced last week that all of the suspects are fraternity members or pledges, and police noted in a press release that their charges do not imply direct culpability in the death of Brett Griffin.
The 18-year-old Griffin was a student at the University of Delaware and died at a fraternity party Nov. 8. The South Brunswick Township High School graduate was pledging Sigma Alpha Mu when he died at a home off campus at 28 Annabelle St. in Newark. No signs of trauma were found on his body.
Police were dispatched to the house at 2:52 a.m., when the college freshman was in cardiac arrest. Medical personnel were unable to revive him.
Police arrested and charged Michael J. Bassett, 20, of Great Neck, N.Y., with providing alcohol to a minor, conspiracy in the third degree, criminal solicitation in the third degree, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession with intent to deliver marijuana and maintaining a dwelling for drugs. Lt. Brian Henry, of the Newark Police Department, said the latter two charges are felonies and the rest are misdemeanors.
Police executed a search warrant at the residence on the day of the incident, recovering illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia from Bassett's locker drawer. Police seized 120 grams of marijuana, cash, a scale, smoking paraphernalia, plastic baggies and a list of people who appeared to owe money to Bassett. After an initial appearance in court, he was released on a $5,100 unsecured bond.
Henry said the investigation revealed that Bassett, and another social chair in the fraternity named Travis Fiume, allegedly collected money from fraternity members for the purpose of buying alcohol. Fiume, a 20-year-old Closter, N.J. resident, then reportedly went with an unidentified 21-yearold individual to purchase alcohol, which they allegedly brought back to their party guests, some of whom were under the age of 21.
Police arrested and charged Fiume with providing alcohol to a minor, conspiracy in the third degree and criminal solicitation in the third degree. He was released on a $3,000 unsecured bond after his initial court appearance.
Police arrested and charged Justin Seenev, 20, of White Plains, N.Y., with underage possession of alcohol and possession of drug paraphernalia. Police reportedly recovered a bud grinder used to process marijuana and an opened bottle of Jack Daniel's-brand whiskey from Seenev's bedroom. He was released on a $2,000 unsecured bond after his initial appearance in court.
Police arrested and charged Michael J. Ciccarelli, 20, of Bellmore, N.Y., with underage possession of alcohol. Police found beer in his bedroom while executing the search warrant and he was released on $100 unsecured bond after his initial court appearance.
Police arrested and charged Joseph Ciarletta, 19, of the Bronx, N.Y., with underage consumption of alcohol. Police reported that Ciarletta was present at 28 Annabelle St. at the time that they executed the search warrant.
Ciarletta allegedly exhibited signs of having consumed alcohol at the scene, since he reportedly had an odor of alcoholic beverage, his speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot. He was released on a $100 unsecured bond after an initial court appearance.
Police arrested and charged Henry Vieluf, 19, of Blauvelt, N.Y., with possession of drug paraphernalia after police reportedly recovered a bud grinder and a hollow metallic cigarette in his bedroom. He was released on a $1,000 unsecured bond after an initial court appearance.
Henry said that the University of Delaware plans to take the proper action after an administrative investigation is completed. Anyone with additional information on Griffin's death should contact Newark Police Cpl. Andrew Rubin at 302-366-7110 ext. 457 or at Andrew.Rubin@cj.state.de.us.
Contact Michael Acker at
WILMINGTON, Del. - The family of a University of Delaware freshman who died after an off-campus party has filed a wrongful death suit.
The suit filed in April and unsealed Thursday claims Sigma Alpha Mu members forced Brett Griffin of Kendall Park, N.J., to drink alcohol, but did not call for assistance for hours after he passed out.
It names the national fraternity, its local chapter and five students, including fraternity officers, the "pledge master" and the student who was assigned as Griffin's "big brother" that night.
An attorney for the national fraternity says he sees nothing to suggest that his client is liable.
In March, Newark police arrested six students and most were charged for misdemeanors related to providing alcohol to minors and underage possession and consumption of alcohol.
Information from: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal, http://www.delawareonline.com
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) The University of Delaware has suspended until 2013 a fraternity where a pledge died of alcohol poisoning last year.
The university confirmed the suspension on Friday. One day earlier, the Delaware Attorney General's Office announced it had filed a criminal hazing charge against the Delta Lambda chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu.
University spokesman Martin Mbugua says the chapter was suspended April 10 after a student judicial proceeding. The fraternity is barred from engaging in social activities on campus, using university buildings or property, receiving university funding and participating in university-sponsored events.
Eighteen-year-old freshman Brett Griffin died of alcohol poisoning last November after authorities say he was encouraged to drink an excessive amount of liquor.
Information from: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal, http://www.delawareonline.com
© 2009 The Associated Press.
Ex-frat members not liable in Del. pledge's death
By RANDALL CHASE, Associated Press
Updated 4:46 pm, Friday, November 15, 2013
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A jury on Friday concluded that two former members of a University of Delaware fraternity were not liable for the alcohol-poisoning death of an 18-year-old pledge in 2008 during a ritual.
Ruling in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Brett Griffin of Kendall Park, N.J., jurors said former chapter president of Sigma Alpha Mu, Jason Aaron, and former pledge master, Matthew Siracusa, were not responsible.
The fraternity and other members previously reached settlements in the case, but attorneys for Aaron, 25, and Siracusa, 26, argued that they were not liable because they did not participate in any hazing of Griffin, and that no one had forced him to drink.
Griffin died with a blood-alcohol level of .341, more than four times the threshold for drunken driving, hours after a fraternity ritual in which he and other pledges were introduced to their "big brothers" and their "family drink." For Griffin, that was a bottle of Southern Comfort.
Aaron wept after the jury declared that he did not haze Griffin or put him in a position of peril on the night he died.
The jury found that Siracusa, either alone or with others, had hazed Griffin, but that the hazing was not the proximate cause of Griffin's death or any pain or suffering he experienced.
Griffin's parents, Tim and Julie Griffin, left the courtroom grim-faced after the verdict.
"This is the reason why kids are still dying from hazing in the year 2013," Julie Griffin said. "Everybody wants to blame the kids."
Aaron's attorney, David Malatesta, said he was pleased that the jury saw through the plaintiffs' arguments.
"This was an unfortunate accident, like we said from the beginning, and no one's fault" Malatesta said.
While relieved at the verdict, Siracusa acknowledged that drinking among college students is a problem.
"The amount of excess there is, it's out of control," he said.
Siracusa said he regrets Griffin's death and hopes his parents can find closure, but that he doesn't know what he could have done differently.
"Yeah, we did some dumb stuff during pledging, but nothing ever to hurt anybody," Siracusa said. ".... Never ever did we make anybody drink... No one was ever in pain or hurting."
Doug Fierberg, an attorney for the Griffins, declined to comment.
Fierberg argued during the trial that Brett Griffin's death was the result of illegal hazing that included lining up pledges in the basement of the fraternity house and forcing them to eat and drink substances that made them vomit. It concluded with a booze-soaked party that the fraternity was prohibited from having because of a previous alcohol violation.
In his closing argument Thursday, Fierberg reminded jurors that shortly before Griffin died, he told a friend in a text message that he was going "mentally insane" because of pledging.
Both Aaron and Siracusa testified that fraternity members knew when planning the party to celebrate the introduction of Griffin and other pledges to their big brothers that the fraternity was banned from having social events because of a previous violation of university rules regarding alcohol during fraternity rush. But Aaron and Siracusa said they did not participate in any alleged hazing of Griffin.
Jurors were told that Griffin consumed what amounted to at least an entire bottle of Southern Comfort before passing out in an upstairs room alongside other pledges who also were in drunken stupors.
Siracusa testified that he wasn't at the party and instead spent the night with friends at a nearby bar.
Aaron attended the party but said he never saw Griffin in any distress, even though the chapter vice president had texted Griffin's big brother, Michael Bassett, just before midnight saying Griffin and other pledges were "all dead right now."
Fierberg told jurors that fraternity members waited nine minutes to call 911 after another brother texted Bassett that Griffin, who had been propped on his side on a couch with a bucket or trash can in which to vomit, was "foaming out of his mouth."
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