A letter to Mom
A rare triple conjunction of the Moon, Venus, & Jupiter occured the night Carson died.
Julia and I were driving home from dinner. We stopped and got out to look.
Dying to fit in: Preventing the tragedy of hazing

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Reported by: Kory Raftery

Tragedy can strike your family at any time. In December of 2008, we were reminded of that when 18-year-old Carson Starkey died a hazing-related death of alcohol poisoning while pledging a fraternity (Sigma Alpha Epsilon, or SAE) at Cal Poly. Starkey's family knows this tragedy could have been avoided and says that makes the situation so much worse.

Action News spoke with college students and community experts about underage drinking and hazing. The findings were amazing. Sure, its no secret that college aged kids have been drinking for years. But experts say the culture is changing. Now students don't drink to be social, they binge. By their own admission, they set out to get very, very drunk.

Cal Poly has about 17,500 undergraduate students. But on December 2nd of 2008, as a result of fraternity hazing, it lost one.

"Obviously, it'll be with us for many years to come. it's a terrible tragedy," said Dr. Ken Barclay, Director of Student Life and Leadership at Cal Poly. Barclay says it's hard to talk about Carson Starkey. An engineering major, and athletic 18-year-old from Austin, Texas, Starkey came to California loving the outdoors and ready to adopt Cal Poly's motto of learning by doing. But after Starkey passed out and died with what investigators called a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit, Barclay says the Greek system was scarred and reminded of what not do when it comes to alcohol. "Many students are coming here and they're drinking. They're binge drinking, and it's a real tragedy. They're endangering themselves," he said.

Daniel Kim and Jacob Lopez recently won awards for their efforts aimed at bringing a stop to fraternity hazing. Both admit it is real and it is happening at universities across the country, including Cal Poly. "The stereotypes come from the truth. They don't come out of thin air," said Kim, the student coordinator for Greek life and a member of Delta Chi. "When I joined my organization, it was a hazing organization," said Lopez, a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon. Brothers in the Greek system, but members of different fraternities, both say they are saddened by what happened to Starkey, who was pledging Sigma Alpha Epsilon, or SAE. But after reviewing the situation, neither was surprised. "I was angry at SAE for allowing this to happen, but I mean, after a while, I realized it could have been my organization if we hadn't changed. I was kind of surprised it doesn't happen more frequently," said Lopez. "I think a lot of fraternities, once they realized the events that occurred with Carson Starkey, kind of really took a step back and realized some of their practices weren't congruent to what they were doing, so they took a step back and reevaluated what they were trying to do," added Kim. And when pressed about the hazing reputation of SAE, and if they hazed pledges, Kim replied "Yeah, I guess they were. From my personal experience."

"It's not OK anymore, our kids are dying," said Kimberly Mott, a specialist with San Luis Obispo County's Drug and Alcohol Services program. Mott is familiar with the numbers, and gave us some eye-opening stats about kids and drinking. She cites stats from the Governor's Prevention Advisory Report, saying 52 percent of eighth-graders admit to drinking. And 62 percent of high school seniors say they have been drunk. "Right now, young people are reporting that 65 percent of the alcohol that they get comes from an adult or a close relative, friend that is of age," troubling news to Mott.

In Starkey's case, it came from his fraternity of brothers. And back in December, just one day removed from Carson's death, one of his closest friends exclusively told Action News she wished he was with a different crowd. "It really frustrates me that I feel like if he was with a different group of people or with us it would have been different," said Tatum Barnes, a freshman at Cal Poly who set up an Internet site for people to celebrate Carson's life.

Cal Poly is now passing out a list of signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning to the Greek community. What to look for, things like impaired reaction, slurred speech, stumbling, vomiting, then pale clammy, skin, blue lips, and trouble breathing. The university believes that the signs, if recognized, could have saved Carson Starkey.

"That's the sad thing. It didn't have to happen," noted Barclay.

In addition to those signs, Mott says its imperative for families to break away from the "Sleep it off" myth. She says never let your friend or your child sleep it off when they are too drunk to function. She also says that's what happens in many fraternity hazing tragedies. And his friends say that might be what happened in the case of Carson Starkey.

A memorial bicycle ride was held Saturday 1/30/09 at Poly Canyon in honor of late Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey by the Cal Poly Wheelmen Cycling Team.Starkey passed away last quarter while pledging the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epilson, from alcohol poisoning.Starkey was a member of the Wheelmen and an avid bike rider.

Wheelmen president and architecture junior Blake Anton said he had spoken with Starkey at club meetings and races."He was a really nice kid; he was really down-to-earth. In general, a lot of people who ride bikes are just pretty neat people. It's like a different group of people, in that, they're real," he said.Starkey's parents expressed appreciation for the Wheelmen's efforts to remember their son, Anton added.

The ride began with a moment of silence in the Cal Poly Recreation Center Plaza at 10 a.m.Attendants were encouraged to sign a Wheelmen jersey dedicated to Starkey, which was sent to his family in Texas.The Wheelmen lead the first part of the memorial bike ride about six miles into Poly Canyon. Those who wanted to ride farther continued through the trail."This ride was pretty much for everybody. We wanted to have anybody who has a bike to be able to do it," Anton said.

Sean Gasiorek, Wheelmen vice president and math senior, helped organize the ride. He said those without a bike were encouraged to attend and walk the trail."We're got a lot of support from both the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities (for this ride)," Gasiorek said.

The Cal Poly Wheelmen are a cycling club with about 140 to 150 members.Their skill levels range from competitive road and mountain bikers to those who just enjoy biking and socializing.

The AHS lacrosse players, coaches, parents, and others all enjoyed big burgers and home made banana pudding.After eating we divided into seperate player and parent groups for discussions about hazing and alcohol.Todd Hanna and Zach Horvath led the player group and Julia and Scott Starkey hosted discussion with the parents.The success of this night led to the creation of Team ALP.