Irvine police are investigating whether a college student who died after a weekend football game between pledges and UC Irvine fraternity members was a hazing victim.
Kenny Luong, 19, of Rosemead died of head injuries about 2 p.m. Tuesday at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, where several dozen friends and relatives had gathered to grieve.
Luong was among a group of Cal Poly Pomona students pledging Lambda Phi Epsilon, a nationally recognized fraternity. The students were playing against a team from the fraternity’s UC Irvine chapter, said Police Lt. Jeff Love. None wore a helmet or protective gear, he said.
“The game was part of nine weeks of pledging required to have a fraternity at Cal Poly,” Love said.
A fellow pledge who participated in the game, however, described it as “a hazing disguised as a football game.”
Daniel Dai, 21, of Alhambra, a business major at Cal Poly Pomona, said he and eight other pledges -- including Luong -- played against 30 to 40 fraternity members in what was supposed to be the culmination of the pledging process. Luong’s injury, he said, resulted from a tackle.
It was “as if he had the breath knocked out of him,” Dai said, “because he became limp and knocked to the ground. Kenny was one of the youngest guys in the group, but he was one of the guys with the most heart.
“He even quit his job [at Robinsons May in Santa Ana] for pledgeship -- he wanted it that bad.”
Love said police had no information suggesting that Luong’s injury resulted from a crime.
“But given the fact that it was part of a pledging activity, we wanted to make sure,” he said.
Simple hazing is a misdemeanor, Love said, but if someone dies of an injury, those responsible could face felony charges ranging from manslaughter to homicide.
Meanwhile, the UC Irvine chapter has been placed on “interim emergency suspension,” said university spokesman Jim Cohen.
Luong and the other Cal Poly students had been interested in starting a chapter at the Pomona university, Love said.
According to police, paramedics were called to San Marco Park in Irvine about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Police were notified the next day when they received a call from the hospital or one of Luong’s relatives reporting his injury, Love said. Detectives were interviewing players and spectators Tuesday.
Cal Poly spokeswoman Uyen Mai said university officials were saddened by Luong’s injuries and were following the Irvine police investigation.
She said the school was aware of the students’ plan to form a Lambda Phi Epsilon chapter. “But we told them we wouldn’t be chartering any new fraternities until 2006,” she said.
Dai said Tuesday that the fledgling fraternity members had scrapped plans to start a chapter.
Lambda Phi Epsilon was founded in 1981 at UCLA, according to the organization’s website. By 1990, five other chapters, including the one at UC Irvine, had been launched.
More than 20 chapters now operate nationwide, the website says.
According to a profile at myspace.com, Luong enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona in 2004 after graduating from San Gabriel High School. The profile lists his major as civil engineering, and says he belonged to the Pomona Philanthropy Group club and enjoyed clubbing, shooting pool and listening to hip-hop. Friends had been posting messages of support on the website since his injury.
Lambda Phi Epsilon was involved in a 2003 melee at a San Jose park that left one member dead. Police said that about 60 members of the San Jose State chapter faced off against members of the Pi Alpha Phi fraternity.
A 23-year-old art student and Lambda member suffered a fatal stab wound to the heart. San Jose State officials suspended both fraternities.
Times staff writer Roy Rivenburg and news assistant Sheena Tahilramani contributed to this report.