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On January 12, 2019, Noah Domingo tragically died from alcohol poisoning at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity party. He was only 18 years old. Domingo had just started studying Biology at the University of California, Irvine. He had aspired to become a trainer in the NBA. Domingo’s death stunned the UC Irvine community and highlighted the dangers of binge drinking at colleges and universities, especially for younger students in Greek life.
Local authorities are now taking steps to hold people responsible for the “Big Brother Night” where Domingo lost his life. In a college fraternity, a “big brother” is an older member who serves as a mentor to a younger, newer member, typically a freshman. On October 30, the Orange County District Attorney charged Zavier Larenz Brown, Jonathan Anephi Vu, Mohamed Ibragim Kharaev, Caleb Gavin Valleroy, and Jonathan Gabriel Villicana with the misdemeanor of hosting a gathering where underage drinking occurred, a violation of Irvine municipal codes.
All five defendants are no more than 22 years old, and four of them are still students at UC Irvine. The police charged them in connection with Domingo’s death because their names are listed on the lease for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house where Domingo died.
The District Attorney also charged Brown and Vu with the misdemeanor of furnishing alcohol to a minor. Since Brown was Domingo’s “big brother,” prosecutors specifically charged him with the more serious offense of furnishing alcohol to a minor causing great bodily injury. If a jury convicts him, he could spend as many as eighteen months in prison. The other four men face a maximum sentence of six months behind bars.
The human body has a limited capability to metabolize alcohol, a toxic substance to most organs. Alcohol poisoning results from drinking more alcohol than the body can process in a specific period of time. Every year, thousands of people die from alcohol poisoning. An overwhelming influx of alcohol into the body’s systems may cause respiratory depression, coma, heart attacks, and seizures. Alcohol poisoning can happen to anyone, sometimes unexpectedly.
After his death, a toxicology report revealed that Domingo’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) level was remarkably high at 0.33. For reference, an average person will usually suffer blackouts and vomiting at 0.20 BAC and begin to lose consciousness at 0.30 BAC.
Despite the risk of alcohol poisoning, college students often drink heavily to win approval from their peers. In fact, college students comprise one of the groups at highest risk for alcohol and drug abuse. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 1,500 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 years old die every year as a result of binge drinking or driving under the influence of alcohol.
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On the same day that prosecutors filed charges against Domingo’s fraternity brothers, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer reminded his community that “providing alcohol to those under the legal drinking age is reckless and dangerous, especially in an environment that is notorious for excessive drinking by young people who may not understand the potential risks of their behavior.”
Spitzer then expressed regret that “current law prevented prosecutors from filing anything more than a misdemeanor in this case” and announced that his office would lobby Orange County to classify the crime of furnishing alcohol to a minor as a felony.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, both UC Irvine and Sigma Alpha Epsilon launched investigations into underage drinking. Many cases of alcohol poisoning in college result from fraternity hazing, although there is no evidence that Domingo was subjected to hazing at “Big Brother Night.” Regardless, UC Irvine has since suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon as a registered fraternity.
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