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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2018
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For FSU fraternity, a wild night turned tragic

The night of initiation was the most that the brothers of Florida State University’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter said they had ever seen their pledge class drink.

That was the plan, court records said: Pledges would arrive at the fraternity house Nov. 2 and hail rides to an off-campus house. There, the "big brothers" would reveal themselves to their underage pledges and present them with a token of acceptance: their "family bottle" — a liquor bottle their new "little" was expected to polish off that night.

For pledge Andrew Coffey, his 20-year-old "big" would use someone else’s ID to buy a 750ml bottle of Wild Turkey 101 bourbon — their family bottle. Coffey finished it.

The night of brotherhood proved fatal. Coffey, 20, of Pompano Beach was found unresponsive the following morning. He died of alcohol poisoning, the Leon County Medical Examiner’s office determined. Coffey’s autopsy found that he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.447. That is nearly six times the level at which state law presumes a driver is impaired, which is 0.08.

READ THE REPORT: A ‘big-little’ party with 16 liquor bottles, vomiting and a fear of being ostracized if pledges didn’t participate

Among the alleged party planners were two FSU students and fraternity leaders from prominent Tampa Bay families: the sons of an assistant chief for the Tampa Police Department and a New York Yankees vice president. They are among nine students charged Wednesday with "college hazing-cause injury or death," a third-degree felony.

FSU president John Thrasher said in a statement that "these arrests are the first step in seeking justice for Andrew and his loved ones, and they will inform us on where we need to place our focus as we proceed .?.?. We hope all members and alumni of our Greek organizations are paying attention."

A Tallahassee Police Department report details a wild night that turned tragic. Witnesses said they saw more than a dozen partygoers who vomited due to alcohol consumption, whether it was from intoxication or "pulling the trigger" to make themselves vomit in order to avoid feeling sick — or so they could continue drinking.

Investigators said they found 16 liquor bottles and dozens of empty beer bottles, 2-liter soda bottles used as chaser or for mixing drinks and cups left at the scene.

At one point that night, the report said, female strippers hired to perform at the party became upset after they suspected fraternity brothers were recording them or taking pictures. The fraternity chapter’s vice president, who was among those charged, yelled at his brothers to put away their phones.

After dozens of interviews with fraternity members and pledges, police said many "were cautious with their statements and characterized their behavior as voluntarily consuming alcohol in excess. Their statements appear rehearsed."

Fraternity members confirmed they had received anti-hazing training with explicit warnings that pledges "may not be forced to consume alcohol."

But, police added, "interviewees revealed the pledges were not physically ‘forced’ to drink, however, it is clear the environment created by the leaders and fraternity members led to an expectation of abusive drinking or the pledges could face possible ostracism by the group."

Investigators said Christopher M. Hamlin, 20, of Valrico was a fraternity marshal and leader over the pledge class. Although Hamlin helped plan the party and directed the pledge class to attend, police said he was not at the party.

The report said Hamlin "indirectly pressured or coerced the underage pledges to consume alcohol at the party in keeping with the tradition of the big-little celebration," and his acts "created influence which was extended to the pledge class despite not being in attendance."

Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty confirmed that Hamlin is the son of Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin, who oversees the administrative department. Through Hegarty, the father declined to comment.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: FSU suspends all fraternities, sororities following death of a pledge

Christopher Hamlin is a graduate of Jesuit High School in Tampa and is a junior at FSU studying finance. He was booked into Leon County Jail on Wednesday and released after posting $2,500 bail.

Anthony "AJ" Oppenheimer, 21, of Wesley Chapel was described by those interviewed as being one of those "in charge" of the party as the fraternity chapter’s treasurer, the report said. Partygoers told police Oppenheimer attended the party but remained sober to monitor the party. He was also assigned a "little."

"This further demonstrates Oppenheimer’s leadership role and responsibility over the fraternity at the party," investigators wrote. They accused him of "directly and indirectly" coercing underage pledges to consume alcohol.

"His attendance at the party and being identified as sober to monitor the party maintained the hazing environment," police said.

He is an undergraduate studies sophomore and the son of Damon Oppenheimer, the vice president and director of amateur scouting for the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The father declined to comment but said his son has a lawyer, Anabelle Dias of Tallahassee.

The other FSU students facing charges are Conner R. Ravelo, 21, a junior in finance from Stuart, who was assigned as Coffey’s "big"; fraternity chapter president Anthony Petagine, 21, a senior in risk management from Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; fraternity chapter vice president John "Jack" B. Ray, 21, a senior in finance from Bradenton; fraternity chapter secretary Clayton M. Muehlstein, 22, a junior from Orlando studying marketing; fraternity warden Luke E. Kluttz, 22, a senior from Baltimore, Md., studying risk management; fraternity marshal Brett A. Birmingham, 20, an undergraduate studies sophomore from Pace; pledge master Kyle J. Bauer, 21, a senior from Palm City, studying management.

Bail for all nine students was set at $2,500. Three conditions were imposed upon their release: They are barred from consuming alcohol and are subject to random alcohol screenings; they must have no contact with other co-defendants; and they must stay away from any witnesses.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.

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Education

For FSU fraternity, a wild night turned tragic