4 indicted in Louisiana fraternity death

BATON ROUGE, La. — A grand jury indicted four people Thursday on charges in the death of a Louisiana State University student whose blood-alcohol content was more than six times the legal limit for driving.

The state grand jury issued the indictments six months after 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver died at a hospital after a night of drinking at the Phi Delta Theta house on LSU’s campus. Fraternity members found the freshman from Roswell, Georgia, lying on a couch and couldn’t tell if he was breathing.

The jury indicted Matthew Alexander Naquin, 20, of Boerne, Texas on a felony negligent homicide charge, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. Three others were indicted on a misdemeanor charge of hazing: Sean-Paul Gott, 21, of Lafayette, Louisiana; Ryan Isto, 19, of Baton Rouge; and Patrick Forde, 21, of Westwood, Massachusetts. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to a maximum of 30 days in jail.

Police originally arrested 10 people, but presented charges to the grand jury against only five. One of the five was not indicted Thursday.

Witnesses said that Naquin singled out Gruver during a hazing ritual involving 18 to 20 pledges and forced him to drink more than other pledges on the night before his death, according to a police report. Naquin targeted Gruver because he was frequently late for events and forced him to drink because he was having trouble reciting the Greek alphabet during “Bible Study,” a ritual testing their fraternity knowledge, witnesses told police.

One pledge said Gruver was made to take at least 10-12 “pulls” of 190-proof Diesel, while other pledges had to drink less of the hard liquor, according to the police report. A second fraternity member said he told Naquin and another member to “cut it out” because it was “getting out of hand,” and a third member said he warned Naquin and the other member to “slow it down” several times, to no avail.

Several fraternity members said they had checked on Gruver throughout the night before they found him on a couch at the fraternity house around 9 a.m. on Sept. 14, police said.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark concluded that Gruver died of acute alcohol intoxication, with aspiration: He had inhaled vomit and other fluid into his lungs. An autopsy showed Gruver’s blood-alcohol content at the time of his death was 0.495 percent, Clark said. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Louisiana is 0.08 percent.

All of the suspects were associated with Phi Delta Theta. Gott and Forde were no longer enrolled at LSU at the time of their arrest, according to LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard. One left school after Gruver’s death, and eight were still active students at the time of their arrests, he said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked the state’s higher-education system leaders to review campus policies on hazing, alcohol and drugs after Gruver’s death. Edwards later said the system has “robust” anti-hazing policies in place but can do more to prevent tragedies.

Gruver’s mother, Rae Ann Gruver, told The Advocate in December that her son’s death is “not something you will ever get over.” The family started a foundation with a mission to fight alcohol abuse, bullying and hazing in college.

“I don’t want any family to ever go through this,” Rae Ann Gruver said.

Other universities have tried to crack down on hazing after deadly incidents led to criminal charges against fraternity members.

Nine members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at Florida State University were charged with felony hazing after a 20-year old fraternity pledge died at an off-campus initiation party in November. The state medical examiner said the deceased pledge, Andrew Coffey, had a blood-alcohol level of .447 at the time of the autopsy.

A Penn State fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and 14 of its members faced criminal charges over the February 2017 death of a pledge who was fatally injured falling down stairs after alcohol-related hazing.

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