An autopsy on a Fresno State fraternity pledge who died after a weekend drinking party was delayed Monday so his organs could be donated, even as Fresno police investigators probed into how he died -- and who was responsible.
The Fresno County Coroner's Office will conduct an autopsy today on Philip Dhanens, 18, of Bakersfield, testing for alcohol levels and fluid in his lungs that might indicate the college freshman had inhaled vomit, Coroner David Hadden said.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said investigators are trying to learn who furnished alcohol to Dhanens and others at the Theta Chi fraternity party, as well as what was said during the evening to the pledges before and while they drank.
"We know there was a significant amount of alcohol, specifically hard liquor, that was consumed," he said.
Dyer said teenagers under age 18 may have been at the party, and investigators are trying to learn if they also were drinking.
The investigation likely will take a week or two to complete, Dyer said. Three investigators have been assigned to the case because a large number of people must be interviewed, he said. About 30 people were at the fraternity house Friday night, Dyer said.
On Monday, the national Theta Chi office said senior representatives were in Fresno to assess the situation. The office issued a statement condemning underage drinking and hazing -- a signal that Dhanens' death might have been due to hazing.
"Theta Chi Fraternity has a strict anti-hazing policy, and strict guidelines for chapters which prohibit underage alcohol consumption," it said. The fraternity intends to cooperate with local authorities to find out what happened, "and to determine what course of action to take next with respect to the local chapter."
The fraternity did not say what further action might be taken. But Fresno State suspended recognition of the Theta Chi fraternity on Saturday, the same day the national organization suspended the chapter. Suspension of recognition by the university occurs in cases involving violations of the Student Code of Conduct, which prohibits underage drinking.
Dyer said it is too early to determine if hazing occurred at the party. "We'll be looking at whether or not there was any type of forced consumption of alcohol or whether it was strictly voluntary," he said.
Dhanens was in his first weeks as a Fresno State freshman. A 2012 graduate of Garces Memorial High School in Bakersfield, he had been on the football team, played tennis and was in the school band.
Jim Maples, the teen's football coach, said Dhanens was a 6-foot 7-inch, 330-pound defensive lineman who worked hard on the team and was affectionately called "Big Phil" by teammates.
"He was an incredible young man," Maples said. Everyone who met him, loved him, the coach said. And it was no surprise he was voted prom king last spring.
"I want people to know what a great kid he was. I've known his parents for 10 years and I'm just heartbroken for his parents."
Dhanens' family members could not be reached Monday for comment.
Shock over Dhanens' death continued to ripple over the campus and in the community and social media sites. A candlelight vigil has been scheduled for 8:45 p.m. today in the Free Speech Area at Fresno State.
"Students are shocked, but they're coming together tomorrow to honor his memory," Arthur Montejano, the Associated Students Inc. president, said Monday.
The news of Dhanens' death was a sad blow to the student community, said Rachel Morgan, 23, a third-year animal science major from Hayward, and Daniel Perez, 24, a fifth-year kinesiology major from Los Angeles.
"Any death would be unfortunate for the school," Morgan said.
Parties that involve alcohol are not rare at Fresno State, she said.
Julian Harris, 24, a graduate student in physical therapy from Los Angeles, said he knows many fraternity members. "The ones I know are good people, but I also know that they can get out of hand," he said.
News about Dhanens' death appeared on the Facebook page of anti-hazing expert Hank Nuwer of Franklin College in Indiana.
In a telephone interview, Nuwer said education to prevent hazing has improved nationwide since his 1990 book, "Broken Pledges: the Deadly Rite of Hazing." But "we still have at least one death a year ... you have to wonder what would happen without awareness," he said.
Nuwer said anti-hazing activists are pushing for freshmen not to pledge to fraternities until their second semester or even their second year of college. "I'm starting to buy into that when I see something like this," he said.
Underage drinking is a problem on college campuses nationwide and has become a ritual that students see as part of their higher-education experience, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The first six weeks of freshman year are an especially vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems, the institute says on its website.
Dhanens' death comes nearly seven years after a former Fresno State student was found dead in a room at Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, the victim of alcohol poisoning.
Danny Daniels Jr., 19, died Jan. 7, 2006, with a blood-alcohol level of .34 -- more than four times the legal driving limit for intoxication. Fresno police said Daniels died after drinking at a Saturday night fraternity party attended by as many as 70 people.
After a review, the fraternity was hit with a five-year ban because of Daniels' death and other alcohol-related violations.
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