- On Oct. 29, 2017, a 19-year old Gettysburg College sophomore flipped his car on W. Lincoln Avenue shortly before 2:30 a.m.
- He had left from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house, where he said he had been drinking previously.
- After the police concluded its investigation, which resulted in bringing five charges against the individual, the college began an investigation of its own, but it was unable to find evidence to bring conduct proceedings against SAE or any of its members for providing alcohol to minors.
- Since the incident, SAE has begun locking away its members’ car keys prior to social events and returning them the subsequent morning.
By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
Gettysburg College administrators have closed their investigation into a vehicle crash that occurred on campus last October with no conduct proceedings against the fraternity at which the driver of the car, who was 19 at the time, said he consumed alcohol before the accident.
According to a Gettysburg Borough Police report obtained through an open records request under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, a 19-year old college sophomore to whom we’ll refer as Jonathan (his first name) in this story overturned an Acura MDX at the “T” intersection of West Lincoln Avenue and a road leading to the Quarry Pavilion shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017. According to a subsequent blood test, Jonathan had a blood alcohol content of 0.201, more than twice the legal limit for someone of age and ten times the legal limit for someone under 21.
At the scene of the accident, Jonathan told police that he had consumed alcohol at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house, which is also on West Lincoln Avenue. At the time of the incident, Jonathan had recently completed the pledging process to join SAE. After an investigation by Gettysburg Borough Police, Jonathan was charged with three counts of driving under the influence as well as violating the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code’s requirement that one drives at a “safe speed,” and for purchasing an alcoholic beverage as a minor. Jonathan is currently in Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program for the first four charges, which will result in their expungement from his criminal record upon completion of the program, and the fifth charge was severed and dismissed. His driver’s license was suspended for three months, and he is required to pay $2,599.15 in court costs.
Gettysburg Borough Police Report (Names and Other Identifying Information Redacted)View Fullscreen
Jonathan declined to speak to The Gettysburgian on the record about the incident.
Gettysburg’s conduct policy states that students will receive nine points for drinking and driving and/or being charged with DUI by the police. At ten total points, students are required to take a leave of absence from the school and may face additional proceedings before the Student Conduct Review Board. Due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), student conduct records are protected from public disclosure, but campus directory information shows that Jonathan was off campus last spring and returned to classes this semester.
“It came down to the inability for DPS to have a proper investigation and the inability of the police to find enough evidence to charge someone with serving.” – Jonathan Allen, Director of Student Activities and Greek Life
After the police concluded its investigation, the college conducted its own investigation to determine if violations of college policy occurred.
Director of Student Activities & Greek Life Jonathan Allen said that, because of a memorandum of understanding between the college and Gettysburg Borough Police, the college’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) had to wait until the conclusion of the police investigation before conducting its own, which inhibited its ability to determine who was responsible for furnishing the alcohol to Jonathan and thus whether the fraternity bore responsibility for serving alcohol to underage students, which would violate both college policy and Greek Life judicial guidelines.
“It came down to the inability for DPS to have a proper investigation,” Allen said, “and the inability of the police to find enough evidence to charge someone with serving.”
The college began the formal stages of its official inquiry after receiving the police report around the beginning of the calendar year 2018. After the initial investigation, the college decided not to pursue conduct charges; over the summer, Allen held follow-up conversations with several members of the chapter’s current and former leadership. At this point, he said the college considers the investigation closed as it did not find sufficient evidence to bring conduct proceedings against the chapter or any individuals for serving alcohol to someone who was underage.
“Because the police did not charge anyone or make any mention to us of possible serving, we used that and the inability for DPS to conduct a proper investigation and decided not to move forward with charging,” Allen said.
While legal proceedings must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, college judicial proceedings utilize a “preponderance of the evidence” standard that requires a conclusion that it is more likely than not a policy violation occurred to find an individual or organization responsible. Asked about the differing evidentiary standards, Allen simply reiterated that the “decision was made not to move forward with the conduct process.” He said he was not involved in making that decision and was not able to state who made it, but said it came from “upper administration in College Life.”
(At the time of the incident, Allen was Assistant Director of Student Activities & Greek Life; he was promoted to Director at the end of the 2017-18 academic year when Joe Gurreri, the former director, moved to a position as a Major Gifts Officer.)
Despite not being involved in making it, Allen said, “I stand by the decision that was made.”
“We can’t necessarily control every individual decision that a person makes long after the safeguards are gone.” – Michael DeFeo ’19, President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Michael DeFeo ’19, who is currently SAE’s president and was vice president last fall, said that he does not know whether alcohol was served to Jonathan that evening as he was asleep at the time of the incident.
DeFeo emphasized that SAE has four sober monitors whose job is to “patrol the event and make sure things are healthy and safe and that no one is getting out of hand or doing anything dangerous” on duty during each of its social events as well as two TIPS-trained alcohol servers who are responsible to serve alcohol only to individuals with wristbands indicating that they are over 21 years of age. However, those individuals’ duty ends at the conclusion of the event, which was prior to the incident on Oct. 29.
“We can’t necessarily control every individual decision that a person makes long after the safeguards are gone,” DeFeo said, noting that the sober monitors who were on duty would have concluded their responsibilities at around 2:00 a.m. while the incident occurred shortly before 2:30 a.m. “We try to limit people’s options to hurt themselves.”
DeFeo acknowledged that the system is not perfect and can break down if someone under 21 steals a wristband, if someone with a wristband gets a drink for someone under 21, if the servers have a “lapse in concentration,” or if underage students — knowing they cannot drink at the event — engage in excessive pregaming and arrive at the event intoxicated. Because he was not president at the time of the incident and thus was not involved in follow-up conversations, DeFeo said he does not know whether any of those situations occurred.
As of the time of the incident, SAE was on deferred social probation for two separate incidents in which those procedures did not work: on Sept. 19, 2017, the chapter pled responsible for violating the sober monitor policy the previous weekend as one of its members who was supposed to be serving in that role admitted to drinking while on duty and not being present at the function, which led to the chapter being placed on deferred social probation through Nov. 16; and, on Oct. 15, the chapter was found responsible for a violation of the wristbanding policy after several students who were underage were found to have wristbands indicating they were of age to drink, which resulted in a one-week extension of the chapter’s deferred social probation through Nov. 23. The preceding spring, the chapter was found responsible for serving an underage individual alcohol, which resulted in five weeks of deferred social probation.
While deferred social probation has no tangible repercussions, it means that if a chapter is found responsible for a related violation during the period of deferred probation, social probation — which prohibits the chapter from hosting social events — is automatically imposed for a pre-stipulated period of time. That did not occur in this case as the Interfraternity Council Judicial Board determined that the wristbanding violation was not related to the sober monitor violation, so, instead of imposing social probation, it simply extended the deferred probation by a week.
After learning of the DUI incident, DeFeo said the chapter met the following day to discuss how it could provide support to Jonathan as well as what it could do to safeguard against a similar situation in the future.
Ultimately, in addition to dismissing Jonathan as a member of the fraternity, the chapter settled on requiring each member to relinquish his car keys to the chapter risk manager on Friday evening for them to be locked away until Saturday morning and then again on Saturday evening to be returned Sunday morning. DeFeo said that the idea came from one of the chapter’s members and that it was adopted without pushback as the members acknowledged the gravity of what had occurred.
Alluding to the key confiscation procedure, Allen said that he is “comfortable” with the organization’s response.
For his part, DeFeo said he is “very confident” the procedure would prevent a similar incident in the future.
“This was a serious event, and everyone understood that,” DeFeo said. “And if it were to happen again, it could be far worse.”
News Editor Gauri Mangala contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: The last name of the student involved in the DUI incident has been withheld to minimize the potential harm to that student associated with permanent publication of information surrounding the incident. After I met with him, I made the decision to publish his first name only in an effort to balance the need for a transparent and accurate presentation of the facts with the long-term personal considerations associated with digital permanence. I consulted with several senior members of The Gettysburgian’s editorial board as well as staff advisors, but, ultimately, the final decision rested with me, as editor-in-chief. Questions or concerns may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. (-B. Pontz)