A judge ruled Monday that a former University of California, Irvine student must face misdemeanor charges in the death of a fellow fraternity member after being accused of giving the victim a bottle of whiskey and encouraging him to drink before he succumbed to alcohol poisoning at an off-campus party.
“This was egregious behavior, and it was entirely preventable,” said Judge John Adams in his Newport Beach courtroom.
The judge was lamenting the Jan. 11, 2019 death of 18-year-old Noah Domingo of La Crescenta at a party celebrating his acceptance to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at UCI.
Domingo died after consuming a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey, part of a ritual for new pledges to the fraternity, authorities said. His “big brother,” 23-year-old Zavier Larenz Brown, is accused of supplying the whiskey to Domingo that led to his death.
“This should never have happened,” Adams said.
Brown faces misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor causing great bodily injury death and allowing a party or gathering where underage drinking is permitted.
In court filings, prosecutors argued that Brown was responsible, pointing to evidence that he text-messaged a photo of the bottle of Jack Daniels to Domingo that night. Brown told others in the fraternity that little brothers in SAE “have to kill a fifth,” meaning he had to down a 750 milliliter bottle of hard liquor. In further text messages, Brown told others that night, referring to Domingo, “I’ll keep him alive.”
Four other men who were on the lease with Brown for the SAE house were also charged with misdemeanors — all except one have pleaded no contest, receiving probation and community service. The SAE chapter at UCI was suspended after Domingo’s death.
Amber Poston, an Orange County deputy public defender, argued Brown did not have a criminal record. She asked the judge to allow him to enter a diversion program with resources for drug and alcohol addiction, in lieu of having to face criminal charges for his friend’s death. In court filings, she said Brown showed intense remorse for Domingo’s death.
“I can’t stop crying,” Brown wrote to Domingo’s family, according to records. “I am destroyed.”
Shaking his head, Adams denied Brown’s motion. He said as his big brother, Brown had a responsibility to protect Domingo from harm. Adams said it was clear that Domingo wanted to join SAE; he said it could be argued that Domingo was pressured into drinking that night so as not to “disappoint his big brother.”
“I don’t find diversion to be suitable,” he said.
The judge’s ruling means Brown must return to court in December if he cannot reach a settlement with prosecutors over the charges.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer was present in the courtroom and personally argued against diversion for Brown. He referred to other deaths at college campuses in his jurisdiction from similar behavior.
“Young men and women drinking at universities, to the point of excessive intoxication, has resulted in incredible tragedies,” Spitzer said.
Brown, through Poston, declined comment outside the courtroom Monday.
Domingo’s father, Dale Domingo, and his siblings were also in court Monday. He clutched a photo of his son and wore a pin with his initials. He said he agreed Brown should face a harsher punishment than a diversion program.
“It’s been 1,021 days since my son died,” Dale Domingo said. “I’ll never see my son again.”
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