A March 27 article incorrectly identified in two instances the University of Maryland fraternity where a freshman pledge died of alcohol poisoning. The fraternity, now suspended on the College Park campus, is Phi Sigma Kappa. (Published 3/28/02)
Prince George's County investigators are contemplating whether to bring criminal charges against members of a University of Maryland fraternity now that an autopsy report confirms a freshman pledge died of acute alcohol intoxication.
The state medical examiner's office said yesterday that Daniel F. Reardon, 19, had a blood alcohol level far exceeding the legal limit of 0.08 after a raucous "bid night" party at the Phi Kappa Sigma house last month. Officials declined to give specifics, but Reardon's father said the hospital recorded levels as high as 0.5.
"This was a supervised, needless tragedy," said his father, Daniel P. Reardon of Northwest Washington. "It was organized, planned and held against the stated rules of the university and against the stated rules of the frat house. My son became a tragedy because of it."
Maj. Gary Corso, head of the police department's criminal investigations division, said detectives plan to meet soon with prosecutors to explore whether to file charges or send the case to a grand jury. Fraternity members could face charges ranging from hazing to manslaughter, investigators have said.
Reardon's death in February was the second fatality on College Park's Fraternity Row in six months, reigniting a debate about substance abuse and underage drinking at the state's flagship university. Phi Kappa Sigma has since been suspended on campus, and its charter has been revoked by the national organization.
Although the College Park campus was notorious through the 1970s and '80s for its raucous party scene, the university has worked hard to curb underage drinking in recent years. The Greek system has been saddled with especially strict regulations: All parties must be registered with the university; guests cannot be served liquor; and all rush events are required to be alcohol-free.
Reardon had just accepted a bid to join the fraternity when he sat down Feb. 7 with other pledges and began drinking bourbon from a bottle, a fraternity member told The Washington Post last month.
Rick Oliver, secretary of the suspended Phi Sigma Kappa chapter, said that the fraternity served alcohol to Reardon and other underage drinkers during its bid night party but that no one was forced to drink or was hazed in any way.
About 4 the next morning, paramedics were called to the fraternity house, where they found Reardon in cardiac arrest in a lounge area that reeked of alcohol, sources said. Paramedics also saw symptoms of alcohol poisoning, which include labored breathing and clammy, bluish skin.
When ingested in large quantities, alcohol lowers body functions, including heart rate and blood pressure, which leads to unconsciousness and coma, a recent study on alcohol use shows.
Reardon was in a coma for a week before his family removed him from life support. Hospital officials told his father that a blood alcohol level of 0.5 can occur only after binge drinking. "It's a social phenomenon," Reardon said. "And the issue extends beyond what happened inside that fraternity. My son is dead. He paid for [the binge drinking] with his life."
The weekend before his son slipped into a coma, Reardon said, the two had a long discussion about Phi Sigma Kappa's rules, and his son outlined the manner in which the University of Maryland fraternity system operates.
"He told me there would be no drinking at rush events, that there were rules to follow on campus," said Reardon, who since his son's death has called attention to the binge drinking he says is prevalent on college and university campuses.
"The extraordinary thing here is, had he not been in a social environment, this would not have occurred. No parent should have to meet a homicide detective in the [intensive care unit] because his kid had too much to drink."
Just days after the fall semester began, another College Park student was found dead on the front porch of his fraternity. Alexander E. Klochkoff, 20, was discovered facedown in a beanbag chair with no pulse Sept. 5. Toxicology tests later revealed that a designer drug -- gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB -- contributed to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon member's death. No charges were filed in that case.
Fraternity members at Old Dominion University were accused of hazing after a similar death last year, and 24 University of Maryland fraternity brothers faced hazing charges in 1993 for alleging brutalizing pledges.
Maryland is one of 35 states with laws against hazing, a misdemeanor punishable by six months in prison and a $500 fine. Hazing is defined as "doing any act or causing any situation which recklessly or intentionally subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury" as a condition of membership, even if the pledge consents to the acts.