'Everybody is in shock' after Fresno State student's drinking death

FRESNO, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Friends are deeply saddened by the loss of a student at California State University, Fresno, who died after a fraternity party.

Loved ones say they're relying on their faith, but they're shocked at the death of 18-year-old Philip Dhanens, a graduate of Bakersfield's Garces Memorial High School.

"Everybody is in shock, because Philip touched the lives of so many people here," Garces President John Fanucchi told Eyewitness News. It was the Labor Day holiday, but he was at the campus. "Everyone here is extremely touched and affected by this tragic incident."

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told Eyewitness News late Monday that three detectives are working on the case. His department will determine if any criminal charges might be appropriate.

"Philip was just one incredible young man," Garces football coach Jim Maples told Eyewitness News. "Just a big teddy bear, and the most lovable kid you'll ever meet."

Dhanens played football his senior year at Garces. He graduated last year and had just started at Cal State Fresno. He died Sunday night at a Fresno area hospital, and school officials said they immediately started an investigation and took action against the fraternity.

"Fresno State has suspended recognition of Theta Chi fraternity following the tragic death of a student following a night of drinking at the off-campus fraternity house," reads a statement from campus spokeswoman Shirley Armbruster.

As a freshman, Dhanens had just accepted an invitation to join the Theta Chi fraternity and became a pledge, Armbruster said. University police are assisting the city police investigation.

Fresno Police Chief Dyer told Eyewitness News his investigators believe about 14 pledges were drinking late Friday and into early Saturday morning. He said this all happened at the frat house.

"A significant amount of alcohol was consumed by these individuals," Dyer said. The chief said officers want to find out who provided the alcohol to the pledges, and what was said to them before and during the drinking.

He said as many as 30 people may have been at the house during this time, or may have information. All those people need to be interviewed.

"We're trying to determine what happened, and whether criminal charges might be appropriate," Dyer said. They're trying to find out exactly how many pledges may have been drinking, and how many were drinking to excess.

Those circumstances baffle Coach Maples.

"That's not the Philip, the Philip that I know him to be," Maples said. "I know it's part of the culture, going to college, and joining fraternities."

But, Maples turns to his faith for comfort.

"I think God had a plan for Philip," the coach said. "I think there's a reason that Philip was put on this Earth, and maybe it's to show others a different light."

Maples and Fanucchi stressed all the good Dhanens did during his high school years at Garces.

"He's one of those complete students," Fanucchi said. "He was a member of our campus ministry team." He remembers Dhanens helped mentor new students, was part of the school Christmas on Campus program, and "special people play day."

Maples echoed that.

"Involved in all activities at Garces High School," the coach said. "In the band, played tennis."

And Dhanens had a stand-out year as a senior on the football team.

Both men said they've known the Dhanens family for years.

"They know that Philip today is with his Lord and Savior," Fanucchi said. "And that's comforting to them."

At Fresno State, officials said they are offering counseling to students on campus.

The vice president for student affairs reported that not only had the campus suspended recognition of the Theta Chi chapter on campus, but the Theta Chi national organization informed the university of their own suspension of the chapter.

Coach Maples said he worries about the culture of college fraternities.

"Part of the responsibility of fraternities, in my opinion, is to be more of a positive thing, instead of the craziness that they get into at this point," Maples said. He added, he thinks universities need to step up and put a stop to this sort of thing.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Philip at this incredibly sad time," said Cal State Fresno President John D. Welty. "We are heartbroken at the loss of this young man who had just joined our university community and had a life of promise ahead."

Garces officials said the same.

"He was one of those kids that just had the innate ability of being somebody that everybody loved, but he was also genuine, and smart, and brilliant, and moving in the right direction," Coach Maples said. "We lost one of the really good, good people in our community."

Garces President Fanucchi said the family is leaning on their faith, and so is the school community.

"We certainly mourn his death," Fanucchi said. "We, as much as we can, muster the strength to celebrate his new life with our Lord, but we're here to pray for and with, and show our support, for his family."