OROVILLE - The
parents of Matthew Carrington say they hope jail terms handed
down to four Chico fraternity brothers - who pleaded guilty in
court Friday to the hazing death of their son - will help
deter such "irresponsible" acts in the future.
The deceased pledge's mother, Debbie Smith, said although
"I know that Matt's death was never intended, I hate that the
last three days of Matt's life were so torturous. ... My pain
is so great that at times I don't know how I'm going to make
it." She told the defendants through tears Friday.
In separate statements of remorse, the four convicted Chi
Tau members admitted that forcing Carrington to drink gallons
of water while performing rigorous exercises in a frigid
basement as part of a "hell night" initiation into the rogue
fraternity was both "stupid and dangerous."
Carrington, a 21-year-old Chico State University freshman,
collapsed Feb. 2 during the third and most strenuous night of
the fraternity rite and died about an hour later at a local
An autopsy determined the excessive water intake under such
extreme conditions caused his heart to stop.
It was at least the third fatal hazing case at Chico State
in the past decade, but the first case resulting in any felony
convictions, according to District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
Before a phalanx of local and national news cameras in
Butte County Superior Court Friday, Ramsey
Carrington's death as "madness" and said he hoped the jail
terms will send a message to other fraternities that engaging
in any type of illegal hazing has "serious consequences."
Besides sentences ranging from 90 days to one year in jail,
the four defendants, Gabriel John Maestretti, 22, Carlos James
Devilla Abrille, 22, Jerry Ming Lim, 25, and John Paul Fickes,
19, must participate in an "anti-hazing outreach program" as a
condition of probation. They must also pay fines totaling up
Because one of their lawyers was facing a family emergency,
court proceedings were continued to Nov. 23 for two remaining
co-defendants, Trent Stiefvater, 20, and Richard Joseph Hirth,
both charged with misdemeanor hazing only.
The guilty pleas by the four felony suspects Friday averted
a jury trial that was scheduled to start Wednesday.
Tears flowed freely as relatives and close friends of the
deceased pledge, all wearing his favorite color red, and
sporting buttons with Matt Carrington's picture, remembered
him fondly in court and denounced the way he died.
"What really stinks about the situation is that Matt didn't
choose to die, these guys on trial right here made that
decision for him," said Andrew McPhee, a close friend of the
Calling their actions "selfish and cowardly," McPhee said
as bad as the torture the fraternity members put Carrington
through, what bothers him more
is "they let Matt
die alone, by himself with no concern over anyone's well-being
other than their own."
Unable to get through his own written address, the deceased
pledge's stepfather, Greg Smith, had his cousin, Rich Smith,
read it for him.
Describing the stepson he helped raise as "an example of
everything good in this world, "he said he had no qualms about
him attending "a party school" like Chico State.
"He knew how to have a good time, but how not to take it to
excess," Carrington's stepfather noted.
"I do know one thing for sure," he told the judge, "these
young men that were in that house that night don't have an
ounce of responsibility or give a damn about anything but
their Greek system. ... If they really gave a damn just one
could have made a difference, if they would have just stopped
it, but they didn't, not one of them."
Michael Carrington, who has created a nonprofit foundation
aimed at bringing public awareness to combat all
student-on-student violence, was overcome with emotion as he
described the "sense of powerlessness" he felt when notified
by police that his son was dead.
"The fact that all you are pleading guilty to your crime
brings me no comfort," he told the four fraternity members.
"I want you all to remember that you didn't just
accidentally kill a pledge; you killed Matthew William
Carrington," the victim's father added, sobbing.
photo of a smiling Carrington taken on his 21st birthday,
Ramsey pointed to the 5-gallon water jug which figured
prominently in the Feb. 2. fraternity death.
"We will no longer accept the killing of our best and
brightest in some stupid, macho initiation test of manhood,"
the district attorney said.
Ramsey explained afterward that the disparate sentences
handed down Friday reflected the varied level of involvement
in Carrington's death among the four fraternity brothers.
Maestretti, the "most culpable," in the prosecutor's view,
pleaded guilty as charged to involuntary manslaughter and
hazing and receiving the stiffest sentence - one year in jail.
He also is barred from using alcohol and must reside in a
"clean-and-sober living environment" when he gets out of jail.
Reading from a prepared statement, the heavyset Maestretti,
who like the other felony suspects had faced up to four years
in prison if convicted at trial, apologized to Carrington's
family for his actions. But he said he didn't feel he deserved
"Hazing is not funny. It is not cute, It is stupid and
dangerous," said Maestretti. "It is not about brotherhood, but
about power and control. ... My actions killed a good person,"
"I accept my punishment with the hope that it will serve as
a warning to others not to follow the path I did," the Chico
fraternity member added.
Similar written statements were read by Fickes, Abrille and
Lim, who at the time of Carrington's death was the Chi Tau
"pledge general" in overall charge of the fraternity
initiation ritual, agreed that "hazing is wrong. ... It
demeans and humiliates people, and as the tragedy of this case
demonstrates, it can destroy lives," he told the courtroom.
While "nothing I can say here today will bring back Matthew
Carrington or lessen the grief that his family feels, I want
them to know that I will do whatever I can to inform others of
the stupidity and dangerousness of hazing," Lim added.
Both Fickes and Lim pleaded guilty Friday to a felony
accessory charge in addition to misdemeanor hazing and
received identical 180-day jail sentences from Judge Stephen
Benson. Like Maestretti, they were also placed on five years
Abrille, who Ramsey said had left during the night and may
have returned to the Chi Tau house after Carrington suffered
the fatal collapse, pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor
hazing count. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three
On Oct. 3, Chi Tau member Michael Fernandes drew a 30-day
jail term after entering a guilty plea to a single misdemeanor
Kevin Sears, Ficke's attorney, called Friday's resolution
He said all four of the defendants had had gone through the
identical initiation ritual and would never have put
Carrington through it if they thought it was dangerous.
Carrington's family also seemed in general agreement with
the way the high-profile hazing case was resolved.
"I only hope that this will prevent more such tragedies,"
said Carrington's mother, who in recent weeks has given talks
about the dangers of hazing to one or more sororities in the
Bay Area, where she lives.
Though "not common," Ramsey said a similar water hazing
ritual led to the death of a fraternity pledge in Pennsylvania
last year and may have figured in at least two other student
The district attorney said he felt news footage of the four
Chico fraternity members being handcuffed and led off to jail
Friday, is the "best deterrent" against such hazing.
Among national media covering Friday's court sentence, was
syndicated TV show "Inside Edition," NBC's "Dateline" and
National Public Radio.
Terry Vau Dell can be reached at 534-3408.