UNT issues ban on alcohol

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Four turn selves in after police issue warrants tied to Jan. 26 incident

Four of seven people for whom warrants were issued on charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor turned themselves in Wednesday and Thursday in connection with a University of North Texas student’s injuries following a fall from a stairwell at the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house.

On Wednesday, university officials announced a ban on alcohol consumption at Panhellenic events following the serious injury suffered by Dustin Starks on Jan. 26.

The 20-year-old business major remains listed in serious condition at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

After an 11-day investigation, UNT police raised concerns about the availability of alcohol to minors.

Warrants were issued for seven people between ages 18 and 21. Of the seven, six are freshmen or sophomores at the university, officials said.

All are being charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor, a Class A misdemeanor.

Class A misdemeanors can be punished by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail, officials working the case said. People convicted of furnishing alcohol to a minor can have their driver’s licenses suspended for 180 days, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

“The police are most concerned with the furnishing of alcohol to a minor,” UNT spokeswoman Kelley Reese said on why the minors involved are not being charged with being a minor in possession.

According to the TABC, minor in possession is a Class C misdemeanor punishable with a fine of up to $500, alcohol awareness class, eight to 40 hours of community service and losing one’s driver’s license for 30 to 180 days.

The incident occurred after several students consumed alcohol at multiple locations both on and off campus at a fraternity party, Reese said.

Police records state that the seven allegedly involved knowingly bought alcohol for a party where they knew minors would be attending and drinking. One affidavit reports that the party, where several Sigma Nu fraternity brothers were invited, was promoted as a “non-dry” party.

Reese said the new ban, which is effective immediately, prohibits alcohol at Panhellenic events, whether they are on campus or not. The events include parties, mixers, icebreakers, date parties, formals or any event involving a fraternity or sorority.

“Providing alcohol to a minor and the consumption of alcohol by a minor is against the law,” Reese said, and UNT does not condone it.

“UNT instituted this ban to help our organizations to understand the responsible and legal use of alcohol,” she said.

If UNT finds out alcohol was present at a Panhellenic event, it will investigate and act in accordance, Reese said. It will be considered a violation of the student code of conduct.

UNT is working to put a task force into place to raise awareness about the responsible use of alcohol and ensure that the rules are carried out. The task force will include fraternity and sorority members and advisors as well as faculty.

“[The ban] is in place until the task force decides it can be lifted,” Reese said.

UNT has 1,400 students involved in 39 Panhellenic organizations. There are seven fraternity houses along Maple and Welch streets. Sorority row is located on West Prairie Street.

Colby Garza, president of the Interfraternity Council, said he doesn’t have a problem with the ban because Panhellenic life isn’t about alcohol or drinking; it’s about leadership.

“Things have to happen when circumstances get out of control,” Garza said.

Garza is a member of Pi Kappa Phi, which isn’t among the seven fraternity houses on campus. He wasn’t there Jan. 26 when the accident happened.

“I hate that it happened,” Garza said. “I don’t want that to be the outlook on Greek life.”

UNT wants to prevent another alcohol-related accident from happening, he said.

The UNT chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity, of which Starks is a member, was suspended in 2010 for hazing and underage drinking. UNT and the national Sigma Nu program investigated the allegations. The suspension was lifted in the fall of 2012.

“Each incident is dealt with individually,” Reese said. “You take a holistic look at what is needed for the institution. This ban is coming out of the concerns raised from this investigation.”

UNT allows students living in on-campus housing to keep and consume alcohol if they are 21 or older, in accordance with the legal drinking age. Students cannot consume alcohol in the presence of a minor, according to the policy.

Alcohol must be consumed in the resident’s room with the door closed, and no open containers may be carried through hallways, lounges, courtyards, community bathrooms, parking lots, balconies, stairways or other public areas at the residence halls, the policy states.

Students also are not allowed to have excessive amounts of alcohol, such as kegs, and alcohol cannot be sold or distributed in the residence halls.

While alcohol is an issue every university faces, UNT decided to take aggressive steps to ensure the safety of its students, Reese said.

“We don’t tolerate breaking the law,” she said.

UNT offers students classes as part of its approach to educate students about the responsible use of alcohol.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com .

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is mgray@dentonrc.com .

 


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