By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
June 21, 2006
Ten juveniles and Cruz Bolanos Guzman, 18, were charged with third-degree felony assault on Monday related to a “birthday hazing” case.
The beating of the teenager on May 25 has also cost Hood River Valley High School an award for excellence in student life. In early June, KATU-2 was expected to reward the local school for outstanding academic and extracurricular programs.
However, the television station withdrew the honor after learning that a 16-year-old male had been hospitalized following a Latino tradition on May 25. According to the participants, it was a cultural rite of passage to lightly punch each other as a birthday celebration — a practice usually done off the school grounds.
In the recent incident, the group gathered in the wrestling room at the school prior to the start of classes. According to reports, the victim did not immediately appear to have serious injuries. By that night he began to exhibit signs of physical distress and was taken to Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital for a complete medical examination. He then underwent major emergency surgery to repair internal damage sustained as a result of the beating.
The victim is now reported to be at home recovering from his wounds.
“This is absolutely tragic and has been very upsetting for all of us. It’s a great example of how the actions of the few affect the whole,” said Principal Steve Fisk.
The hallway of the Hood River County Courthouse was crowded with worried parents and family members of the suspects on June 19. They had not seen their children since the previous Friday when the accused assailants were arrested at school and transported to NORCOR.
To keep control of courtroom noise and activity, Judge Donald Hull had each of the parents take turns making an appearance.
Crying mothers and stoic fathers watched as their sons — and in one case a daughter —took a seat in the video conference room at NORCOR. The message that Hull delivered to each of the teenagers was the same.
“If you were an adult, this being a Class C felony, you would be subject to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $125,000. However, since you are not being treated as an adult, you are not subject to prison or having a large fine imposed.”
He then asked Deputy District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen for her recommendation on whether each subject should be released or detained pending further court action. She said an investigation had been undertaken by juvenile authorities and the sheriff’s office that had identified key players in enactment of the crime.
“The state is making a distinction — given the evidence that we have right now — between the primary participants and what we see as secondary participants,” said Rasmussen.
Hull followed her recommendation to keep eight of the students behind bars for at least the next couple of days. Rasmussen made those picks based largely on the fact that they had reportedly inflicted the most bodily harm to the victim.
She also factored in previous criminal history. Three of the teens were charged in April with stealing gasoline from a Hays Drive farm. Another subject had been sanctioned for another assault.
All of the detainees will appear before Hull on Thursday, beginning at 10 a.m. He will confer with attorneys and decide whether to release each teenager or hold them until a later date.
The three subjects who were allowed to go home on Monday night were placed on house arrest. Hull warned them to not leave their respective residences without being accompanied by a parent. He will meet with each of them on Tuesday, beginning at 9 a.m., unless their court-appointed attorney has a conflict with that time. Meanwhile, school officials are determined not to have a repeat of the dangerous scenario. Fisk said it has been good news to learn that the hazing was not considered a tradition by the majority of the Hispanic student body population. He said it appeared to have been initiated by the group of students while they were in middle school.
“It was very troubling that no official knew that this behavior was going on,” he said. “I hope what can be achieved through all this is that it stops.”
Once the accused students have returned to school in the fall, Fisk said they could face a range of disciplinary actions, from a five- day suspension to a full expulsion.
“Our charge still is education and teaching and that’s what we need to focus on doing,” he said.