Wednesday, October 11, 2000,
When he moved from his Palo Alto home to California State University at Chico seven weeks ago, 18-year-old Adrian Heideman wasn't sure he wanted to join a fraternity.
"I was afraid about going greek at first because I didn't want to be
a part of anything that was just about drinking and partying and sports
and stuff I don't like," he wrote in an online diary on Sept.
10. "But the fraternity I'm pledging to is a lot nicer than that. . . . I'm pledging Pi Kappa Phi, and it's great."
Early Saturday morning, Chico police found Heideman's body on a bed inside the Pi Kappa Phi house on Rio Chico Way.
A fraternity ceremony had been held the previous evening, witnesses told them, when new pledges were introduced to their "big brothers." Heideman was seen drinking lots of blackberry brandy, they said, and he eventually fell asleep.
When Heideman's friends checked on him after 1 a.m., he had stopped breathing. By the time an ambulance arrived, he was gone.
Although the Butte County coroner performed an autopsy on Heideman's body yesterday, it may be weeks before a final ruling on the cause of his death. Chico police believe it to be alcohol poisoning.
Police are investigating whether Heideman's death was caused by criminal negligence, asking whether he was drinking as part of an initiation, or whether anybody forced him to drink. Fraternity officials say they also have begun an inquiry into the possibility of hazing or binge drinking at their Chico chapter.
Driving home from Chico yesterday after identifying her son's body, Edith Heideman said the teenager had only "minimal" experience with alcohol.
"Adrian was not a drinker," she said. "He was a vegetarian, he didn't smoke, he didn't really drink. He had tried alcohol, and it didn't really appeal to him. He was always the designated driver."
But Heideman said she is waiting for the results of the autopsy and the police investigation before placing blame.
"I feel as though underage drinking is against the law and should be respected as being against the law," she said. "I do believe that the fraternity needs to re-evaluate some of its policies and purposes, but they're a very fine group of young men. They loved and embraced my son, as did the whole community at Chico."
Adrian Heideman was born in 1982 in Houston, Texas, the second of four children, his mother said. At age 4, two years before the family moved to Palo Alto, leukemia was diagnosed. In recent years, Heideman had tested clear of the disease.
Heideman grew tall, handsome and creative, his mother said. He wrote poetry, composed music and performed in 10 years' worth of productions at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre. As a freshman at Gunn High School, he learned Japanese and visited Japan, before transferring to Palo Alto High.
His grades weren't strong, his mother said, but Heideman was accepted and felt welcomed at CSU Chico. His online diary is filled with excitement about his classes -- including chemistry, calculus and electrical engineering -- and sprinkled with notes about a new social life and hints of homesickness.
The decision to join the Zeta Lambda chapter of Pi Kappa Phi was Heideman's own, his mother said. Maybe the idea of joining an all-male association appealed to him after a childhood spent with three sisters, she said.
Pi Kappa Phi touts itself as "America's leading fraternity," with 140 chapters nationwide, according to CEO Mark E. Timmes. The fraternity policy states: "No chapter members shall purchase or serve alcohol to those under the legal 'drinking age.' . . . all rush activities will be a dry rush function. . . . 'Drinking games' will not be tolerated."
Brandon Bettar, president of the Zeta Lambda chapter, said yesterday that his chapter followed those rules.
"We are still doing an investigation of the fraternity," he said. "Our brothers are grieving right now. We have just suffered a tragic loss. We are cooperating fully with the authorities."
But an Oregon member who visited Chico wrote on his chapter's Web site, "If there is an Animal House left, it is the Zeta Lambda Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi." The Chico chapter's own Web site -- disabled yesterday afternoon -- featured a photo of a former chapter president and another member wielding hefty jugs of what appeared to be alcohol.
That photo is probably "inappropriate," although not necessarily an indication that the chapter broke national rules, Timmes said, speaking en route to Chico. But he added that it is "not disputed" that underage pledges were drinking at the frat house Friday -- and that itself is a violation, he said.
"We've suspended all activities pending our investigation and determination of what discipline will take place," he said. "The range of penalties could go all the way up to closure of the chapter."
The university, too, has policies against binge drinking, including a 1999 memorandum that states: "All members of the campus community have a stake in ensuring that alcohol is used only in a responsible manner. . . . Alcohol abuse, including binge drinking or drunk driving, by anyone will not be tolerated."
While a spring 2000 student survey found that Chico students overestimated the frequency and amount of alcohol their peers consumed, it also found that Chico students drank more, and more often, than the state or national average.
Campus administrators did not return calls asking for comment yesterday,
but Shauna Quinn, program manager for the school's Campus Alcohol and Drug
Education Center, said the school had responded to the survey by creating
a "Reality Check" week, with posters to coincide with National Collegiate
Alcohol Awareness Week.
Family members will hold a memorial service for Adrian Heideman at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Palo Alto Children's Theatre (adjacent to the Lucie Stern center), 1305 Middlefield Road.
E-mail Matthew B. Stannard at email@example.com.
Wednesday, October 11, 2000
Officials at California State University, Chico, said
yesterday that they have suspended university
recognition of the fraternity where a Palo Alto
student was found dead Saturday of apparent
Chico police are continuing their criminal
into the death of Adrian Heideman, 18, whose
body was found in the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity
house on Rio Chico Way early Saturday morning.
Among the unanswered questions are whether
Heideman was required or forced to consume
alcohol during a fraternity ceremony Friday night
when Heideman and other pledges met their
fraternity ``big brothers.''
An autopsy has been completed, but the Butte
County coroner is not issuing a report until
toxicology tests are completed -- a process that
will take weeks.
The suspension bans the fraternity from using
university facilities, participating in university
events or conducting business on campus until
the investigation is concluded, said Rick Rees,
associate director of student activities.
Individual members of the fraternity may also be
investigated for disciplinary action, he said. Pi
Kappa Phi's national executive, Mark E. Timmes,
said Monday that the organization already
ordered a halt to all activity at its Chico chapter.
Rees said that the fraternity is cooperating and
that both school and Chico police records do not
show a higher rate of problems at Pi Kappa Phi
than at any other fraternity. In fact, Rees said, his
office receives far more complaints about some
Rees said the house's history does not set aside
the question of whether the group forced
Heideman to drink or created an environment in
which he felt he had no choice.
``We are taking a very hard look at this thing and
we want everyone
--and particularly the fraternity -- to be very clear
that it's not business as usual here,'' he said.
Rees said the university also is meeting with the
school's Interfraternity Council to discuss whether
the fraternity system itself needs to change in the
aftermath of Heideman's death.
Chico senior Nathan Beakley, the council's vice
president, said yesterday that the suspension is
not unexpected, and the council is working with
the school and supporting the grieving fraternity.
The crisis could serve as a ``wake- up call'' to
students who haven't gotten the message about
the dangers of alcohol, Beakley said, but he also
said he felt that scrutiny of fraternities in the wake
of Heideman's death might not be justified.
``It seems to me that if he hadn't been involved
with an organization, this wouldn't be a big deal,''
Beakley said. ``Alcohol isn't something they focus
on in the fraternities in terms of you have to drink
or you don't have to drink. It's your choice. It's
just college, and you don't have to drink.''