PLYMOUTH, N.H. (AP) – Police were conducting a criminal investigation into whether a Plymouth State University student intentionally was swerving a vehicle in a sorority hazing before it crashed Monday night, killing another student.

Ten young women were in the Jeep Grand Cherokee when it slid off the road, and several of them were blindfolded, police said. Kelly Nester of Coventry, R.I., was thrown from the vehicle and killed.

It was not clear whether she was one of those blindfolded, but she was one of the six pledges in the vehicle during a possible sorority hazing.

Hazing is illegal in New Hampshire.

The vehicle was driven by Nicole Dalton, 20, of Rochester. Police said they were looking into whether Dalton was intentionally swerving or jerking the steering wheel before the crash.

Dalton was a “sister” of Sigma Kappa Omega, an unrecognized sorority on campus.

The organization was formed when a handful of women broke away from the nationally recognized Alpha Sigma Alpha in April. Dalton and another woman in the car, Nicole Little, had voluntarily left. At least one woman in the car had been kicked out, a university official said.

A senior in an established sorority speaking on the condition of anonymity said the woman was kicked out after beer was found in a refrigerator.

The senior, who knows the women involved, feared the whole Greek system or the women in the car will be unfairly blamed for Nester’s death.

“They made one simple mistake,” she said. “It’s not like they were locked in a basement with a keg and forced to sit down there until they drank it.”

She added: “When one tragic thing happens, the press jumps all over it. But no one notices the good things we do.”

Other students said hazing is widespread and often brutal in Plymouth. One student said blindfolding six girls in one car is tame compared with most hazing.

“I had a guy who lived in my hall that would come back with black eyes,” said senior Rachel Lastoff, an English major.

Lastoff said hazing occurs at nearly all Greek organizations at the university. It ranges from eating disgusting foods to being buried naked in the snow, she said.

Lastoff said she thought the incident was a kidnapping, not uncommon during hazing.

Valerie Levine, one of the girls in the Jeep, told the Concord Monitor she thought they would be taken to a rural area, dropped off and forced to walk home.

Lastoff, whose boyfriend joined an unrecognized fraternity, said most students don’t want to pay the money to belong to recognized organizations, where she said the most brutal violent hazing occurs.

“It’s not something you can stop. Hazing is something that’s not talked about,” she said. “But if anything is said, the school will deny it.”

Tracie Massey, an administrator who oversees Greek life, said no hazing has been reported in the seven established organizations in recent years.

Wednesday night was an orientation night, where new Greek members are educated about hazing laws in New Hampshire and sign forms saying they understand what defines hazing and they will report it if it happens, Massey said.

Officials said they were waiting for the outcome of the police investigation before they decide whether to pursue university sanctions.

“It’s an accountability issue,” university spokeswoman Michele Hutchins said. “As a group, they can’t be held accountable, but as individuals, they can be.”

This is the first time a group of students at Plymouth State has broken from a nationally recognized sorority to form an underground organization, Massey said.

“They’re not rogue students,” she said. “It’s just a rogue group.”

Unrecognized groups typically have lost their recognition for reasons ranging from alcohol, poor academic performance or because they can’t afford the insurance on the house. The university does not keep lists of students who belong or track their grades.

Students from both recognized and unrecognized groups plan to meet in mid-November to discuss changing the face of Greek life on campus.

The Sigma Kappa Omega house was quiet Thursday. A mile away on Route 3, a makeshift memorial or flowers sat on an embankment; nearby were pieces of the crashed vehicle and a broken cassette tape.

AP-ES-10-23-03 1927EDT



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.