Three Fresno State fraternity brothers have been charged in the drinking death of a college student who graduated from Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield. 18-year-old Philip Dhanens died of alcohol poisoning in September after a party at the Theta Chi fraternity house, off campus.
Dhanens was a freshman at Fresno State when he drank a deadly amount of alcohol following his acceptance into the now closed fraternity. "While these defendants had no prior criminal history, the evidence also does not show that they intended for Philip Dhanens to die. Their actions led to his death," said Elizabeth Egan, Fresno County District Attorney.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Egan announced three Theta Chi fraternity brothers will be held responsible for Dhanens' death.
"28-year-old Leonard Luis Serrato, 24-year-old Aaron Joseph Ramyo and the chapter president, 22-year-old Daniel Woodward Baker, were the event organizers who purchased or otherwise made available alcohol to minors," explained Egan.
All three are charged with hazing and providing alcohol to a person under 21, both misdemeanors. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said on the night of August 31st, 14 pledges were placed in a room at the fraternity house with five to seven bottles of hard liquor.
"Within the middle of the room there was a residential size garbage can that was to be utilized for the pledges when they consumed alcohol, got sick. Then they would utilize that can to vomit in," explained Dyer. "In fact, of the 14 pledges that partook that night, it is estimated that seven of them used that can."
Dyer said the pledges were told they didn't have to drink if they had a religious, medical, or personal reason. "They were also told they could not leave the room and attend the larger party next door until all of the alcohol was consumed," he continued.
Dyer said around 10:30 p.m., Dhanens was found heavily intoxicated, and that's when his fraternity brothers cut him off. Dhanens later passed out and they brought him to the "drunk room" where sober brothers were supposed to look after him. Three hours later, Dhanens was found unresponsive on the floor.
Dhanens was taken to St. Agnes Medical Center with a blood alcohol level of .42, more than five times the legal limit for driving. "The investigators estimated that based on the blood alcohol level and Philip Dhanens' size, he had ingested 37 one-ounce shots," noted Dyer.
"I have been praying for the fraternity brothers since the first time that we met at St. Agnes Hospital, while my son Philip, laid brain dead in his hospital bed. Every day I asked Philip to pray for them," said Diane Dhanens, Philip Dhanens' mother.
Dhanens' mother hopes her son's death will help curb binge drinking in fraternities, so no other family will have to endure a similar tragedy.
"The fraternity brothers 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," she continued. "This way all of us as a community can continue to effect change regarding the widespread problem of alcohol poisoning and hazing."
"It is my hope that through this investigation and through this prosecution, that we are able to change a culture within fraternities. This thought that there has to be consumption of alcohol in order to be initiated into a fraternity, has to stop," said Dyer.
If convicted, each defendant could face up to a year in custody and a fine of up to $5,000.