Fraternity brothers duke it out

Two feuding fraternities at San Jose State University faced off for a gang-style rumble in a park early Wednesday that left one student stabbed to death on his 23rd birthday and four others seriously wounded.

The fight broke out just after midnight at Flickinger Park between about 70 members of the Pi Alpha Phi and Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternities, whose longstanding feud boiled over after a dispute Monday night at a pool hall.

Police Sgt. Steve Dixon wouldn’t say who was armed or how many weapons were involved, but he likened the brawl to a fight between gangs whose members sport Greek letters instead of tattoos and bandanas. The deadly fight marred the university’s first day back to classes after winter break, as investigators cordoned off the Pi Alpha Phi house and spent the day interviewing more than 60 witnesses.

“We understand there were some incidents of egging, verbal taunts and some bad blood between them,” Dixon said.

Authorities identified the slain man as Alam Kim, a member of the Lambda fraternity and a computer science major from Los Altos who died from a single knife wound to the chest that pierced his heart.

Police named no suspects in his death and said those responsible were probably on the run.

Three others were stabbed and another was knocked unconscious, but all are recovering, including a 25-year-old man in serious condition at San Jose Medical Center with a stab wound to the back.

Both fraternities opened San Jose chapters in the 1990s, promoting themselves as alternatives for Asian students. Police said the fraternity members got into an argument at a pool hall Monday night and decided to settle the dispute the next day at William Street Park, just south of campus.

“We had no indicators this kind of thing was in the works,” said San Jose state police chief Ric Abeyta.

Lucia Fagundes, 43, who lives in an apartment next door to the Pi Alpha Phi house, said she called police around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday over a noisy fight, which broke up almost as soon as she picked up the phone.

“There was all kinds of threatening, they were just calling each other bad names, screaming at each other – ‘I’m going to kill you, I’ll be back here,'” Fagundes said.

Fraternity members from Pi Alpha Phi reportedly called brothers from their chapter at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for reinforcements, police said.

The students drove in packs to the park but saw police in the area and headed across town to Flickinger Park in northwest San Jose.

Emergency calls poured in about 12:10 a.m. Wednesday from neighbors who said they heard screams from people at the park – a common spot for football and soccer games but seldom any trouble, neighbors say.

Officers arrived to find about 20 people still at the park and many others fleeing. The five people most seriously injured had already been taken to hospitals by their friends. Kim died within an hour.

University spokeswoman Nancy Stake said it was too early to talk about what would happen to the fraternities or their members.

“We have not been told yet what actually happened,” Stake said. “We need to have all the facts.”

San Jose State University President Robert L. Caret said he was “greatly saddened by the tragic events.”

Angela Harper, coordinator of Greek life on campus, said she had not noticed any animosity between the fraternities.

“They are the two major Asian interest fraternities on our campus, so I imagine there is some competition for members,” Harper said. “They operate in the same social circles, attend the same events and hang out with the same sororities.”

She said students from the Pi Alpha Phi fraternity had been detained Wednesday, either at the chapter house or the police station, and were not allowed to go to classes.

Detectives were busy throughout the day questioning more than 60 people, who spilled over into the police department’s cafeteria and conference room.

Some left in paper jump suits after police confiscated their bloody clothing as evidence. One stood on the sidewalk waiting for a ride and said he remembered being punched in the eye, but could recall little else. It was “all a daze,” he said.

Meanwhile, friends and students responded with shock to the news of Kim’s death.

His friendly and assertive nature made him the perfect fit for his job as a party promoter, friends said. The Korean-American student was rarely seen on campus without fliers or pumping up a coming event. He even planned parties for Pi Alpha Phi, according to friends.

Roger Lwin, who ran Underworld Productions with Kim, described him as honest and a hard worker. He often helped his father at the small car stereo and cell phone store he owned in San Jose.

“He worked for his dad for eight years and never had a weekend off,” Lwin said.

Kim was described by friends as someone who got along with a wide range of people, whose hearty laugh was contagious, and who was quick to smile and ask how things were going.

Getting stabbed in a brawl with a rival fraternity just didn’t seem to fit with his nature, they said.

“I didn’t think Alam would be involved in that,” said another friend who asked not to be identified. “There are always rivalries, but he wasn’t like that.”