Fraternity booted from S.F. State after party death as school looks into hazing allegations 

click to enlarge A frat was booted from this house after a teen died at a party. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • A frat was booted from this house after a teen died at a party.

Peter Tran was 18 years old when he died at a fraternity party in April, and now San Francisco State University is taking the first in a series of punitive actions against those involved.

In late June, the college expelled the local chapter of the Lambda Phi Epsilon National Fraternity from campus after a two-month review into alleged violations of SFSU's hazing policy, said Joseph Greenwell, dean of students.

SFSU also is investigating students involved in the incident, but would not reveal how many or when it plans to make decisions on possible punishments.

Tran's death stemmed from an April 23 frat party held at a house in the 1200 block of Plymouth Avenue in the Ingleside district, police said. Members of Lambda Phi Epsilon lived at the home, but Tran did not. The party, according to a resident of the home who wished to remain anonymous, was a "crossover" party in which new members are initiated into the fraternity. Tran, who lived in San Francisco, was reportedly a pledge.

Tran died at some point during the party, police said, but partygoers did not notice his lifeless body in the house until the next day. First responders pronounced him dead about 1 p.m. April 24.

The tenant of the house said his roommate tried to perform CPR on Tran, a pre-nursing major at SFSU, to no avail.

Although toxicology tests are pending, it appears alcohol played a factor in Tran's death.

"The review process provided information that showed the pledging process for the organization included mental and physical challenges with ambiguous expectations of the men wishing to join the fraternity," Greenwell said.

Phi Nguyen, chairman of Lambda Phi Epsilon's board of directors, would not comment on the incident because of the ongoing investigation. An Asian-American-specific fraternity, Lambda Phi Epsilon has 46 chapters in the U.S. and Canada, including at Stanford University and UC Berkeley, according to its website.

The Tran family declined to be interviewed about the incident. But Tran's cousin Harry Tran started a Facebook page called "The Legacy of Peter Tran," where he wrote to those who donated to Tran's funeral.

"While we are not 100 percent sure what happened to him, we are shocked, saddened, confused, and at a loss for words at what happened," Harry Tran wrote.

A memorial for Peter Tran was held May 5 at the McAvoy O'Hara Evergreen Mortuary. It was attended by more than 200 people, mostly teenagers. Buddhist monks chanted and lit incense as the mourners lined up to pay their last respects.

"We were two [Tenderloin] kids who were supposed to make it out," one friend wrote on a large sheet of paper on the wall of the mortuary.

"Peter, I don't know why the good die young," another person wrote.

Students at the party the night of the death could be charged with a felony under Matt's Law, which allows victims of hazing to pursue punishment against parties engaged in such acts — even allowing survivors of hazing to sue.

The maximum sentence is a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

But the university's determination that hazing took place has no bearing in the courtroom, said Ivo Labar, an attorney who specializes in fraternity hazing lawsuits.

"The students start fresh when litigation begins," Labar said.

To prevent future hazing incidents, SFSU's alcohol policies might change. The school is bringing in the nonprofit Aware Awake Alive to find new ways to curb student drinking, said founder Julia Starkey.

Starkey was the first person to successfully prosecute students involved in hazing under Matt's Law. Her son, Carson Starkey, was a Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo fraternity pledge who died in 2008 after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at a hazing party. The Starkeys started their organization to educate college students on safe drinking.

But in the end, prosecution may be the best way to deter students from drinking, Labar said. He praised the university's hard line on Lambda Phi Epsilon, but said they need to do more.

"What works and what proves to work in study after study is to have alcohol-free events," he said.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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