‘Birthday hazing’

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

August 2, 2006

Eight teenagers have pleaded guilty to a “birthday hazing” in late May that severely injured a 16-year-old male — but two other accused assailants could hold out for a jury trial.

On Friday, the grand jury dismissed charges against an 11th suspect. But jurors determined that sufficient evidence existed for Hood River County Deputy District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen to pursue a second-degree assault case against the remaining two males.

By not pleading guilty to the lesser charge of third-degree assault as their peers have done, Rasmussen said the teens, if convicted, face a much stronger sentence. Measure 11 mandates that anyone convicted of that crime spend 70 months in prison and pay up to a $250,000 fine.

Rasmussen said it is unknown at this time whether defense attorneys will pursue a trial for their clients or seek a settlement.

Cruz Bolanos Guzman, 18, and seven minors at Hood River Valley High School quickly accepted the plea deal offered by Rasmussen. They have been put on probation for 24 months and given a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent. That condition can be modified by a probation officer if deemed necessary.

In addition, the teens were all directed to write a letter of apology to the victim that is approved by a court officer. They will each perform 120 hours of community service and pay a share of the victim’s medical bills.

“I’m happy that there’s been a somewhat speedy resolution on this case for the youth who have stepped up to the plate to take responsibility for their actions,” said Rasmussen.

She believes the students involved in the case are primarily “good kids who got caught up in a group mentality.” Rasmussen said it is admirable that Guzman, one female and the remaining six males immediately acknowledged that what they had done was wrong and sought to make amends.

The participants in the beating of a Hispanic male said the action had been intended as a birthday celebration. They said it had been a Latino tradition since middle school for them to lightly punch each other on the arm to mark a new age.

On May 25 that tradition went horribly wrong when the recipient of those punches ended up in the hospital. He underwent major surgery to repair internal damage sustained as a result of the severe beating. The victim is now reported to have recovered from his wounds.

In addition to the arrests that were made, Principal Steve Fisk said the students face disciplinary action when school begins in late summer. He said they are likely to either be given a five-day suspension or a full expulsion.

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