3 charged in Fresno State hazing death

March 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A bereaved mother looking for an answered prayer. Her son died in a suspected hazing incident, and now criminal charges could shine a bright light on a mother's new cause.

Three Theta Chi fraternity members, including the chapter president, are facing charges related to the August 31st party.

Philip Dhanens, 18, died of acute alcohol intoxication, according to coroners. Investigators say his blood alcohol content rose to at least .40 during the party.

Dhanens had just pledged Theta Chi and police say he was taking part in a hazing ritual that encouraged heavy drinking. He alone consumed one-and-a-half bottles of hard liquor -- what turned out to be a deadly amount.

The Theta Chi markings are mostly gone, but the tragedy that happened in this house can't be erased.

This is where police say Philip Dhanens drank the equivalent of 37 shots of alcohol, egged on by the brothers he wanted to join.

Three fraternity members, Leonard Serrato, Aaron Raymo and Daniel Baker -- now face criminal charges and Dhanens mother says she's praying they'll be able to help raise the alarm about hazing.

Dianne said, "The fraternity members need to be young men of courage and integrity in order to speak truthfully about the events during the evening that led to Philip's death."

Fresno State launched an alcohol poisoning campaign weeks after Dhanen's death. The university already sends students birthday cards when they turn 21 with warnings about alcohol consumption. And they offer alcohol education courses for students. But administrators know, no matter how wide a net they cast, they can't catch all the problems with students and alcohol.

Paul Oliaro said, "Unfortunately there are tragedies like this that do occur despite some of the alcohol education efforts."

Fresno State is now considering mandatory alcohol education for incoming freshmen and transfer students -- similar to what Chico State instituted after a 2005 hazing death.

Matt Carrington was the victim back then and California legislators passed Matt's Law in his name, giving prosecutors the ability to charge hazing as a felony.

The three men charged in Dhanens' death only face misdemeanor charges. But after seven-hundred-plus hours of investigation, police hope those charges, and the public warning will be enough for Dhanens' parents.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said, "There's nothing we could've done during the course of this investigation to bring Philip back, but we felt an obligation to at least bring them justice."

If they're convicted, the three Theta Chi members would face between six months and a year in jail.

ABC30 spoke with Baker's attorney Tuesday. He said his client's very limited involvement in the chain of events doesn't rise to criminal liability.

Serrato's attorney has a plan to keep his client out of jail, and he says Dhanens' death is very unusual. You'll hear from him on Action News Live at Eleven.


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