By KATY BURNELL
An off-campus brawl at a party hosted by members of Psi Upsilon fraternity last November left a freshman member of the UMW lacrosse team severely beaten, unconscious, and hospitalized.
The student, Evan Weiss, lost six teeth and had his jaw broken in two places in the beating. Since November he has had thousands of dollars in reconstructive surgery.
Last week, another freshman, fraternity member John Russo, was indicted on one count of malicious wounding, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. His arraignment is set for March 3 in Fredericksburg Circuit Court.
Russo was held for a week in the Rappahannock Regional Correctional Facility before his bond hearing Tuesday. Members of the fraternity and other friends raised the necessary $1,000 for Russo’s bail.
Both Weiss and Russo are still attending classes at the University.
The incident has led to a number of charges and counter-charges. Weiss’s friends—two of whom were at the party—say he was beaten by several fraternity members, and that the beating continued after he was unconscious.
“You see gruesome things on TV, but this was unlike anything I have ever seen,” said freshman James Jamison, who was with Weiss at the party. “His face was completely red with blood. He was barely conscious. His eyes couldn’t focus on anything.”
However, several fraternity members interviewed said the accusation—that Weiss was beaten by a group of fraternity members after he was unconscious—wasn’t true.
Fraternity members say Weiss and his friends precipitated the incident when they made racial slurs at Russo’s roommate, fellow freshman fraternity member Samson Belay.
According to Belay, Weiss and his friends started the fight when they first attacked him after exchanging words on the front lawn. He said the fight escalated when other members of the fraternity came to his defense.
“People get in fights all the time, but being called the racial slur was the worst. I had a hole in my lip, my face was swollen,” said Belay. “That all heals, but words don’t heal.”
Fraternity members say Russo has been unfairly singled out for prosecution by police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney. They also say that they have contacted the NAACP to request an investigation into what they see as the racial aspects of the case.
“I was there for everything that night and I can say that John is completely innocent,” said senior fraternity member Reed Pannell. “[The fraternity members] were all completely shocked when we heard that he had been arrested.”
Weiss’s friends deny using any racial epithets. They also deny that they attacked Belay.
Assistant Commonwealth attorney Travis Bird, who is prosecuting the case against Russo, did not return phone calls for comment.
Several members of the lacrosse team, including Weiss’s older brother, went to the Hunter Street party when they heard that Weiss had been taken to the hospital. Sources said there was a brief scuffle which ended by the time police came to the house.
The Fredericksburg police incident report for the initial altercation gives the following account of what happened on Nov. 17.
At 12:20 a.m., police responded to a fight occurring in the middle of Hunter Street. The fight had stopped by the time officers arrived on-scene. They learned that one male had left the scene with friends, still bleeding.
Around 2 a.m., police were summoned to Mary Washington Hospital’s emergency room to speak with an assault victim who could not remember the events surrounding his attack. The victim, later determined to be Evan Weiss, had sustained a broken jaw and multiple facial injuries.
At 4 p.m., the victim returned to the police station to make a report. Weiss was still unable to recall what had happened, but stated that several friends had told him that he had been beaten while on the ground.
Senior fraternity member Reed Pannell, a Hunter Street resident who called police when the initial fight broke out, said that he asked the responding officers to stay behind in anticipation of the confrontation between the fraternity and the lacrosse team, but the officers refused. Then a caravan of SUVs holding what he estimates to be 40 people pulled up to the house.
“It was relatively civil without punches being thrown at first… but then Matt Weiss came and all hell broke loose,” Pannell said. “It turned into a flat-out brawl. Me and about six other brothers got hit in the face.”
Police returned to Hunter Street shortly after the fight broke out, but no one was seriously injured and no charges were made.
UMW Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach Kurt Glaeser said that he warned the team not to engage in any retaliatory activities following the incident, and he remains watchful for signs of trouble.
“My role as a leader is to get everyone to stand down,” Glaeser said. “If evidence comes across my desk that my guys were involved in anything inappropriate then there will be consequences.”
According to a statement issued by the fraternity’s president, junior Andrew Catherwood, the two groups are moving forward from the events of Nov. 17.
“I have spoken with prominent lacrosse players and I want to make it perfectly clear, that we all agree; this is not a Psi Upsilon fraternity versus UMW lacrosse issue,” Catherwood said.
Weiss said that he would also like to put the events of Nov. 17th behind him. He expressed hope that the situation could be resolved in a positive way for all parties involved, including the student charged with his assault, John Russo.
“I don’t want to see this kid stuck in jail. Community service or anger management, yeah, but I understand that when you’re drunk sometimes you do things you regret. I just hope he learns from all this,” Weiss said.