We Miss You Matt
Matt was special from the day he was born, we knew that he was meant for something great, but what we didn’t know is that he would not live to see what all he would accomplish. In life Matt was fearless and endearing, a joy to be around, I am still amazed by how many lives he touched in his short 21 years of life. I got a call from the Diablo Valley College School paper shortly after Matt’s death and the reporter asked me to describe Matt, one of the words I used was Sweetheart. She said “I can’t tell you how many people use that word to describe Matt” but I knew how many would use that word because that is exactly what Matt was a true Sweetheart. Matt always put others before himself he lived by the motto “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Unfortunately not everyone lives by that same motto, which our family found out when we learned about how Matt’s life was senselessly cut short.
On February 2, 2005, Matt was left to die of water intoxication on the floor of a cold, wet, sewer infested fraternity basement in Chico following hideous acts of hazing. He was terribly degraded and mistreated for the last three days of his life, all for the purpose of gaining admission into the fraternity, demonstrating his worthiness, and satisfying the brotherly love…
What Happened to Matt
As part of pledging the fraternity, Matt was initially required to undergo relatively innocuous, albeit embarrassing, pranks. As the pledge period continued, however, the required activities became increasingly more embarrassing, difficult, and dangerous.
The pledge period culminated in “Hell Week,” which began on January 30, 2005. The pledges were told that the basement of the fraternity house would be their home for Hell Week. The 10-foot by 20-foot basement was cold and dirty, littered with cigarette butts, and scrawled with graffiti, including the ominous statement, “In the basement, no one can hear your screams.” Large holes were cut into the wall in which the pledges were required to sleep.
The first night of Hell Week, Matt was ordered to do calisthenics in the frigid basement. The sewer line in the fraternity house had broken that day, and the basement was flooded with sewage. Rather than cancel the initiation ritual, Matt was compelled to do push-ups and sit-ups in two to three inches of sewage. The events in the sewage-filled basement lasted until about five o’clock the next morning.
The next night, January 31, 2005, at about 11pm, the fraternity held an initiation event called “Pledge Olympics.” During this event, Matt and the other pledge were compelled to do calisthenics, other assorted exercises and run up and down the stairs until approximately 3am.
The following night, February 1, 2005, was dubbed “Movie Night.” It began late Tuesday night and lasted until early the next morning. A fraternity member known as the Pledge General and other fraternity members played poker in the basement while watching a movie. Meanwhile, the pledges, wearing only jeans and underwear – they were ordered to take off their shoes, socks, and T-shirts – were required to stand on one foot on a wooden bench and drink copious amounts of water from a 5-gallon Alhambra bottle. As they were doing so, fraternity members asked them difficult questions about the fraternity’s history. If they answered incorrectly, they were ordered to do push ups or other calisthenics on the basement floor. All times throughout the night fraternity members would yell out “Take one for the Homie” at which time the pledges would have to pour water on themselves while having fans aimed at them blowing in the below 40-degree temperatures from outside. The pledges had to ask permission to urinate on themselves, so that the fraternity members would know when to make fun of them. According to other fraternity members, similar if not the exact initiation rituals have been used by the fraternity for over twenty years.
At approximately 4am as Matt was struggling to do more push-ups after the other pledge answered yet another question incorrectly, he collapsed and went into a seizure. The seizure lasted one to two minutes. As one fraternity member ran upstairs to call 911, he was stopped because someone thought they heard Matt snoring. In fact, Matt was not snoring he was struggling to breath.
Rather than get help fraternity members changed Matt out of his wet cloths, wrapped him in a blanket and laid him on a couch. By that point Matt’s brain and heart were swelling his blood had become dangerously thin and his liver and kidneys were failing. Matt was drowning form the inside out.
At approximately 5am – an hour after he collapsed – The fraternity members heard a gurgling sound coming from Matt and noticed that he had stopped breathing. The other pledge attempted to perform resuscitative breathing while a fraternity member called 911. Matt was taken to Enloe Medical Center in Chico where he was pronounced dead.
Matt died from cardiac dysrhythmia and cerebral edema, or brain swelling, due to hyponatremia, or “water intoxication.” Hypothermia brought on by the forced drinking of water, being doused with water, and having the fans turned on him in the 40-degree basement also contributed to his death.