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4 students arrested in hazing investigation

FSU suspends the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published January 31, 2007


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Yet another Florida fraternity chapter is under investigation for hazing, the latest in a string of recent cases involving university students from Tallahassee to Orlando.

Early Saturday, police arrested two Florida State University and two Tallahassee Community College students on misdemeanor hazing charges, after 31 Sigma Phi Epsilon pledges were found in a crawl space at the back an off-campus house.

FSU police Maj. Jim Russell said the arrested fraternity brothers - FSU students Drew Johnson, 22, and Joshua Vincent, 19; and TCC students Eric Fernandez, 19, and Nicholas Finazzo, 18 - tried to run from the house after officers investigating an anonymous complaint of hazing arrived to find the pledges.

The 31 young men were shivering in the 30-degree weather. They were covered in raw eggs, catfish-stink bait, flour and vinegar, and their bodies were red with welts, Russell said.

FSU officials suspended the chapter Monday, and Russell said police are still investigating to determine whether other fraternity brothers are responsible.

The arrests come two weeks after the University of Central Florida suspended its Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter because of hazing charges, the third such suspension at UCF within the past year.

Meanwhile, a Tallahassee judge Monday sentenced two Florida A&M University students to two years in prison, their punishment for the first convictions since lawmakers made violent hazing a felony crime.

Hazing has long been a practice on college campuses, starting in 15th-century Germany, where freshmen were frequent targets. When most colleges banned hazing in the 1920s, the practice moved into fraternities and sororities.

Lawmakers in 2005 increased the penalties for hazing convictions involving serious injury or death, raising those cases from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

The FAMU case was the first tried under the felony hazing law. Five fraternity brothers were charged in April with the hazing of Kappa Alpha Psi pledge Marcus Jones, who testified that his buttocks was beaten so severely he bled through his jeans.

A jury in December found two of the men guilty, and a judge Monday sentenced 23-year-old Michael Morton and 25-year-old Jason Harris to two years in prison.

But the Tallahassee and Orlando schools aren't the only ones dealing with misbehaving fraternities.

In November, the University of South Florida shut down the Lamda Chi Alpha chapter for hazing and alcohol violations.

Also this fall, UF suspended its Pi Kappa Alpha chapter - still under punishment for earlier hazing and alcohol violations - amid reports that three women, one of them a 17-year-old high school student, were drugged at a party inside the chapter's house.

Prosecutors recently dropped charges against the fraternity, but UF officials are still investigating.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3403 or svansickler@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 31, 2007, 01:25:06]


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