The Suffolk County district attorney has detailed the charges of manslaughter and hazing against the now-defunct Phi Gamma Delta fraternity in the September 1997 drinking death of MIT freshman Scott Krueger.
The four-and-a-half-page "statement of the case" by District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II filed on September 14 and released by court officials following a September 17 news conference said Scott Krueger, 18, of Orchard Park, NY, drank "an inherently dangerous amount of alcohol at an organized, mandatory, annual fraternity hazing event." It said the event was known as Animal House Night and featured a showing of the movie Animal House.
"While at this event, fraternity officers and members provided Krueger with enough alcohol to raise his blood-alcohol level to .401 -- a toxic amount that is more than five times the legal limit in Massachusetts," it said.
An arraignment is scheduled for October 1. No charges were brought against individual members of the fraternity, the alumni corporation which owns the house, or MIT.
At Thursday's news conference, Mr. Martin said the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, an unincorporated association, would face criminal charges in the death. "Sophisticated analysis will legitimately bring us to the point where an unincorporated association can sue and be sued. Therefore, why not indicted?" he said.
The detailed statement, submitted by Assistant District Attorney Pamela J. Wechsler of the Homicide Unit, said the medical cause of Scott Krueger's death was acute alcohol intoxication and aspiration -- choking on his vomit.
The statement charged that the cause of death in real terms "was the wanton and reckless conduct on the part of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, its officers and its members in promoting and orchestrating the 'Animal House' drinking event, supplying an inherently dangerous amount of alcohol, and then abandoning Scott Krueger when he was in dire need of medical treatment."
The statement said on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 1997, Krueger and the rest of his 12-member pledge group "were told by their fraternity's elected 'pledge trainer' that an event, traditionally called 'Animal House Night,' would be held on the evening of Friday, Sept. 26, 1997. The pledge trainer advised these 12 freshman pledges that their attendance was mandatory and that they would meet their fraternity 'big brothers' at the end of the night. The pledges were told that they were to gather together that night at 8:30pm in a designated room at the fraternity, watch the movie Animal House and collectively drink a certain prescribed amount of alcohol. Scott Krueger expressed anxiety about the event to his twin sister and to fellow pledges at MIT."
(Timothy Burke, attorney for the "pledge trainer," said he disagreed with the prosecutor's summary. "There never was any compulsion to drink a prescribed amount of alcohol," Mr. Burke said.)
The detailed statement continued, "During the first part of the event on the night of Sept. 26, 1997, the Phi Gamma Delta 'pledge trainer' provided the group of pledges with beer and a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey that he had purchased earlier. The pledges consumed all of the alcohol. At about 11pm, the fraternity 'big brothers' entered the 'Animal House' room and the pledge trainer ordered the pledges to line up. The 'big brothers' were introduced and then the whole group sang a Phi Gamma Delta drinking song that ended with the words 'drink her down, drink her down, drink her down, down, down.' Each 'big brother' had an additional bottle of hard liquor to share with his 'little brother.' Scott Krueger's 'big brother' presented him with a bottle of Bacardi spiced rum.
"As the event wore on, Krueger began complaining of nausea and lay down on a couch. Within minutes, he began to lose consciousness. Two 'big brothers' of the fraternity then carried Krueger to his new bedroom in the fraternity, placed him on his stomach, and positioned a trash can nearby. Approximately 10 minutes later Krueger was unconscious and covered with vomit. Instead of immediately calling 911, a fraternity member dialed the MIT campus police who in turn transferred the call to 911. Emergency medical technicians responded quickly and discovered that Scott Krueger was not breathing, his face was blue, and he had choked on his own vomit. He was rushed by ambulance to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, where he remained in a coma for some 40 hours until he was ultimately pronounced dead on Monday, Sept. 29, 1997."
FRATS 'ON NOTICE'
At the news conference, Mr. Martin explained why the fraternity was indicted. "My office determined that the indictments should be aimed at the fraternity that promoted and orchestrated the activities that ultimately led to Scott Krueger's death, not at the people who were sent on a [alcohol] purchasing errand.
"The law of manslaughter says you are criminally responsible when you engage in reckless and wanton conduct. If there had been one person who stood in the place of this association, then he'd be charged. But the institution or association is responsible in this case -- this was a planned event," said Mr. Martin.
Commenting on potential misdemeanor charges against individuals, Mr. Martin said purchasing alcohol for a minor is against the law, "but you don't use a grand jury to investigate misdemeanors." He added that Boston police can handle such cases with complaints but did not know what they may do. Just purchasing the alcohol does not mean that there is responsibility for the death, he said.
Asked by reporters how he weighed the personal responsibility of Scott Krueger for his own drinking, Mr. Martin said he took into account his status as being underage and a freshman.
He noted that hazing, a misdemeanor, carries penalties of a fine of up to $3,000 and a year and a half in jail. The jail term is not applicable to the fraternity as an unincorporated association. The fine for a felony charge of manslaughter is up to $1,000.
"This action will put fraternities on notice and will raise the standards of conduct. But we were subject to having to meet the legal standard for the charges we could bring," Mr. Martin said.
He added this marks "the first time in my memory" that the hazing statute has been applied against a fraternity in Massachusetts. "It also marks the first time, to our knowledge, that a fraternity has been charged with manslaughter anywhere."
(Phi Gamma Delta is no longer a recognized fraternity at MIT.)
MIT NOT CHARGED
Mr. Martin said his office and the grand jury "spent a great deal of time investigating the culpability of the MIT administration and the institution in the death of Scott Krueger.
"We ultimately concluded that criminal charges against the administration were not warranted. However, we did discover a troubling lack of supervision over a fraternity that was the source of numerous alcohol infractions, continuous neighborhood complaints and serious concerns from within the MIT community itself.
"The pressure of the criminal investigation has led to a series of changes at MIT. But it is clear that the administration should have moved more quickly in addressing a trouble-plagued fraternity and in addressing the larger issue of inadequate housing capacity for MIT freshmen."
Mr. Martin closed the news conference statement by saying, "I have spoken with Scott Krueger's parents, and I want to point out that they have been extremely understanding and cooperative. They have demonstrated tremendous patience and respect for this investigation."
Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams issued a statement on Thursday afternoon following the announcement of the grand jury action but before the detailed statement was announced.
"The loss of any life to dangerous drinking causes anguish for classmates, schools, communities and most of all for families. Scott Krueger's death has focused attention across the country on dangerous drinking and its consequences," Dean Williams said.
"If such a death could occur at MIT, it could happen anywhere. Dangerous drinking is a problem that needs to be addressed on many fronts and by all concerned. MIT recognizes that it -- in fact all colleges and universities, together with students, parents and community leaders -- have a responsibility to teach young people about the risks of dangerous drinking.
"Throughout the past year, MIT has cooperated with the Suffolk County district attorney's investigation into the death of Scott Krueger, and we will continue to do so as the charges against the fraternity are adjudicated. The Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, at which Scott Krueger was drinking before he died, is no longer active at MIT."
Dean Williams concluded, "This past year has been one of introspection and redoubled efforts by the MIT community to deal with the problem of dangerous drinking. The steps MIT has taken, and will take, demonstrate our ongoing commitment to deal with this national problem."
(Background fact sheets regarding curbing alcohol abuse at MIT, MIT alcohol citations and sanctions, and MIT fraternities and dormitories are available on a News Office web site.)
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 23, 1998.