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Hospital releases student who almost died in binge

Author(s): DRANN SMITH; MICHELLE-MILLHOLLON Date: August 30, 1997 Section: city

A student who almost died along with a fellow fraternity pledge after a drinking hinge Monday was released from the hospital Friday. Donald Hunt Jr. – a longtime friend of Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge Benjamin Wynne, who died Tuesday – was released from Baton Rouge General Medical Center.

“lie’s fine,” his mother, Dawn Hunt, said from their home in Mandeville.

She would not comment further.

Dawn Hunt and her husband, Donald Sr., announced earlier in the week that their son won’t return to LSI).

Hunt, 20, was near death Tuesday morning when paramedics arrived at the SAE fraternity house. Like Wynne, Hunt wasn’t breathing.

Paramedics got Hunt breathing again on a machine.

As the probe into Wynne’s death continued Friday, LSU Police launched an investigation into allegations of hazing by SAE last year, including forcing pledges to drink excessively on bid night.

Central to the probe into Wynne’s death is how much drinking occurred at Murphy’s Bar, where the fraternity held a party Monday to celebrate the issuing of invitations to new members earlier that day.

Local Alcoholic Beverage Control Office investigators have not interviewed Murphy’s two owners, but hope to next week, said John Welborn, the office’s assistant director.

Murphy’s has been closed since Tuesday. The bar’s owners planned to close it in November after the LSU football season.

‘[‘he timing of events Monday night is hazy because few people were paying close attention to their watches that evening, said Tommy Damico, a local attorney representing SAE member Nat Hammerli, the fraternity’s rush chairman.

“Different people are giving different time frames,” Damico said. “And that happens when no one is paying attention to the time. There is a lot of confusion about that.”

Damico said Hammerli, who oversaw summer rush activities, has not been interviewed by police and was not involved “in any action that contributed” to Wynne’s death.

“He has no responsibility for Monday night,” he said. “He is a member of SAE. That is the extent of his involvement.”

Five investigations are under way into the death and the circumstances surrounding it.

Damico said he hopes LSU Police conduct a methodical probe and carefully consider all the facts. He said the intense national media scrutiny of Monday’s binge drinking has been incredible.

“I have a concern that in a tragedy like this that cool heads won’t prevail and that there will be some kind of witch hunt,” he said. “All the authorities need to look at it very carefully and do the proper job and not overreact.”

Some events Monday night are becoming clear.

After the bids were announced Monday afternoon, the fraternity’s members and pledges slowly migrated to a private party at 792 Jennifer Jean Drive. Two kegs arrived after 5:30 p.m.

The kegs didn’t have taps, which made it impossible for the more than 100 partiers to drink beer for “a significant amount of time,” said Damico.

He said the party lasted about 90 minutes.

“I think what has been blown way out of proportion is the amount of drinking that went on at Jennifer Jean. There were well over 100 people there for an hour and a half,” he said. “I have not seen any information that would suggest there was any excessive drinking at the Jennifer Jean residence.”

He said the information that he has obtained indicates most of the fraternity members and their guests had left Murphy’s by 9 p.m.

In a related matter, SAP. alumni have formed a commission to oversee operations of the fraternity.

The national SAP, headquarters has suspended the local chapter’s operations and handed control of the organization to a new Alumni Commission.

Local attorney Frank Tomeny III, the president of the fraternity in 1982-83, said he has been asked to serve on the commission. It will have 10 to 20 members, he said.

“Alumni would always like to see the chapter operate on its own,” but having operations overseen by a commission is not unusual, Tomeny said. The University of Southwestern Louisiana’s SAE chapter is controlled by such an alumni commission, Tomeny said.

The SAB fraternity house is owned by a house corporation whose officers and shareholders are alumni, he said.

Fewer than 20 members now live and eat in the house, and whether they can continue doing so will be determined by the commission, Tomeny said.

“I think it is a tragedy the young man died, and I do not like to see what was to me a meaningful experience (as an SAE member) portrayed in this negative light,” Tomeny said.

The SAE chapter at LSU was one of only 20 chapters worldwide to receive an achievement award from the national group last year, he said.

SAE’s pledges and active members last year had the sixth highest grade-point average of approximately 30 fraternities at LSU, he said.

Advocate reporter Mike Dunne contributed to this story. Copyright 1997 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.