Close frat house until 2011, says fire official

UK finds violations, relocates members after prank injury

jhewlett@herald-leader.comMarch 9, 2010 

The University of Kentucky's fire marshal, Greg Williamson, said Monday he has recommended that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house, the scene of an apparent prank involving fire early Saturday, be closed for the rest of this semester and through the next semester.

Investigators found "multiple fire violations" at the building after a fraternity member allegedly set fire to a friend who was wrapped in toilet paper, Williamson said.

More than 40 SAE fraternity members have been relocated. UK made dormitory rooms available to them.

Sean P. Dunn, 19, of Hebron, was charged with first-degree arson, first-degree wanton endangerment and tampering with physical evidence after he allegedly struck a match, setting ablaze the toilet paper-wrapped victim.

According to court records, the victim was engulfed in flames up to his shoulders; he fell to the floor and began rolling to extinguish the flames. The floor caught fire, and Dunn tried to stomp out the flames.

Dunn had first-degree burns on his hands, according to court records. The person who was set on fire was not taken to a hospital, UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton said. He did not identify the victim, saying UK does not release that information in such circumstances.

Stanton said he was not aware of any other injuries.

Dunn was released to a family member, apparently his father, after his arrest, according to court records. Dunn is scheduled for arraignment in Fayette District Court on Wednesday.

Joseph Henry McKinley III, a resident of the SAE house, also was arrested and charged with third-degree assault for allegedly hitting a UK police officer and resisting arrest.

According to Fayette District Court records, UK police found McKinley, 20, of Owensboro, lying on a couch and pretending to be asleep in one of the rooms as they were doing a room-to-room check because of the fire. McKinley ignored the officers' request to go to the lobby of the fraternity house. McKinley suddenly said "f--- you" and began to swing his fist toward officers. One officer trying to apprehend McKinley was struck in the face, according to court records.

McKinley paid 10 percent of a $5,200 bond and was released from jail. He is scheduled for arraignment Thursday.

Reached in his chambers Monday, U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. confirmed that the accused student is his son. Joseph H. McKinley III, contacted by phone, had no comment about the weekend incident.

"This could have been a very serious situation. We really avoided this being a tragic situation," UK Police Chief Joe Monroe said. "Just a couple more minutes, and the student could have been seriously injured or the fire spread ... It could have been a tragedy."

Williamson said doorways were covered with blankets, and residents had rigged tentlike structures on beds using blankets, which could delay activation of the building's sprinkler system and hamper people getting out safely. Also, many candles were found during an inspection after the fire.

The house — a red brick structure on Rose Lane where about 50 students live — is about 10 years old.

The national chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has suspended the UK chapter, Stanton said.

The weekend incident is the latest in a series of troubles the fraternity and some of its members have had in recent years.

Last year, McKinley, SAE and the UK chapter of SAE were sued by a man claiming that McKinley beat him in the head, breaking his nose, while he was waiting for a friend who had been invited inside the SAE house in February 2008. Stephen Pearce, who is seeking more than $13,000 from the defendants, claims McKinley staggered out of the SAE house wearing only thong underwear and pummeled him after one of Pearce's friends asked McKinley why he was dressed as he was.

According to documents filed with the lawsuit, McKinley ran back into the fraternity house after punching Pearce, and Pearce, who could not see after he was hit, fell on his knees and stumbled to the front of the fraternity house, where an unknown SAE member approached him and threatened to kick him in the face.

McKinley was charged with fourth-degree assault and convicted. He appealed the conviction, but it was affirmed in circuit court, records indicate. A hearing in the civil lawsuit is scheduled for later this month.

The Kentucky Kernel, UK's student newspaper, reported last fall that Sigma Alpha Epsilon was charged by the university with hazing in October 2008. However, chapter president Bobby Pelosi said that after the dean of students investigated, the initial hazing charge was changed to an alcohol violation.

SAE was founded at UK in 1900, making it one of the oldest fraternities on campus. Famous alumni include former Kentucky governors Keen Johnson and Edward T. "Ned" Breathitt, Outback Steakhouse founder Chris Sullivan and Lexington businessman and Thoroughbred horse owner William T. Young, for whom UK's main library is named.

UK SAE fraternity house occupants were forced to move out just as mid-term exams were beginning.

Nick Stonecipher, a sophomore from Atlanta, is staying on his sister's sofa because he didn't want to go back to the dorms. He was out of town over the weekend and returned to find he had to get all of his belongings out of the house.

"I'm a little in the dark about all of this," he said.

Clay Brady of London still had his car packed full of clothes and a microwave oven. He's sleeping on a friend's sofa. He said the semester's rent and meal plan at the SAE house have already been paid.

"The university is not really helping out, and I don't know what I'll do," he said. "It's really bad timing. It could have been handled better."

Andrew Hagan, a senior from Lebanon, heard about the event after the fact.

"A lot of people had nothing to do with what happened, and they got punished," he said.

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