While it included other activities such as a scavenger hunt, much of Sigma Alpha Epsilon's initiation revolved around alcohol. After Thanksgiving, fraternity members summoned Starkey and 16 other pledges to the garage of an off-campus house for "Brown Bag Night." Tarps covered couches to protect them from vomit, according to court testimony. Pledges sat in a circle, with a trash can at the center.
At 10:30 p.m., each pledge was given a brown bag with cans and bottles of alcohol. "Drink up, finish by midnight," said one upperclassman, according to court testimony.
Starkey's bag had two 24-ounce cans of Steel Reserve beer, a 16-ounce can of Sparks alcoholic energy drink, and a fifth of rum he was to split with another pledge, one of several Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers who bought the liquor testified. Pledges also shared a bottle of 151-proof Everclear, which is 75.5 percent alcohol. As members chanted "Puke and Rally," Starkey emptied his bag in 20 minutes, court records show.
After Starkey passed out, fraternity brothers debated whether to drive him to a hospital less than a mile away, members testified. They placed Starkey in a car and removed his Sigma Alpha Epsilon pin, so that doctors wouldn't know he was at a fraternity event. Then they changed their minds. Rather than go to the hospital, they brought him back in the house and left him on a dirty mattress, according to court records and Starkey's mother, Julia.
Starkey died on Dec. 2, 2008, 71 days after starting college. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.44, or about five times the legal limit, according to court testimony.
Four fraternity brothers pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges related to hazing. They were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 30 to 120 days.
The Starkeys sued Sigma Alpha Epsilon and several members for negligence, settling for at least $2.45 million, court records show.