Humboldt Beacon (http://www.humboldtbeacon.com)

Drinking game may have preceded fraternity pledge's death


By Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) A Louisiana State University fraternity pledge may have been forced to drink to excess during a game or initiation ritual called "Bible Study" on the night before his death last month, according to newly released police reports.

"Bible Study" meant that pledges at the Phi Delta Theta house had to drink if they incorrectly answered questions about the fraternity during a gathering the night before 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver died, LSU police said in affidavits filed in court Monday.

A witness told police that Gruver was "highly intoxicated" when fraternity members laid him on a couch and left the house sometime early on Sept. 14. Around 11 a.m., members found Gruver still on the couch with a weak pulse and couldn't tell if he was breathing, police said. Two people drove him to a hospital, where the freshman from Roswell, Georgia, died that day.

Police are investigating Gruver's death as a possible result of fraternity hazing. The fraternity's national office said it closed the chapter after Gruver's death.

A coroner said hospital tests found a "highly elevated" blood-alcohol level in Gruver's body.

Witness statements "indicated that the pledges were forced to drink in excess. Several of the pledges stated that they received a group text message stating there would be 'Bible Study' at the house" at 10 p.m. on Sept. 13, a police affidavit said.

Police executed search warrants at the fraternity house and at Gruver's dorm room. Among the items seized from the fraternity house were a duffel bag filled with beer cans, bottles of liquor, a glass smoking pipe, a "pledge test," cleaning supplies and two strands of white knotted rope, according to a search warrant return.

Police also found devices that may have captured video footage inside the fraternity house "during the times of the events," a police affidavit says.

Investigators seized a cellphone belonging to the fraternity member who sent the group text message about the "Bible Study" session.

"Investigators also learned that there were several text messages sent about (Gruver's) condition," the affidavit said.

Police also obtained a warrant to examine Gruver's phone so they could see who he called or texted before his death.

In a letter dated Sept. 21, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked leaders of the state's higher-education system to review their campus policies on hazing, alcohol and drugs following Gruver's death.

"One loss of life to hazing or drug and alcohol abuse is too many, and I know that you share my very serious concerns," Edwards wrote, asking them to report their findings and recommendations to his office by Oct. 29.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore has said police interviewed many fraternity members, but some had refused to give a statement and were hiring lawyers.