Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity threw a party late on the night of Aug. 26 that ended with dozens of people, myself included, in free fall after the house’s deck collapsed.
In the house on 15 Old Field Road in Setauket, all the windows were kept closed and all doors were kept guarded by AEPi members in order to keep the loud, partying students from attracting noise complaints from neighbors. There were about 150-200 students cooped up in the hot three-story house. About 30 of us found our way to the outside deck.
“I mean it was really, really hot inside and so much cooler outside so the balcony had a good number of people like 25 or 30 ish probably,” junior biochemistry major, Nerone Kiyoshi Douglas, said in a Facebook message. According to Town of Brookhaven Fire Marshal Christopher J. Mehrman, approximately 50 people were on the deck.
I was talking with friends when suddenly there was a loud crunch and seconds later I and the other students fell 10 feet to the ground. After a few seconds I was able to stand. I was shaking, covered in dirt. I had scrapes up and down my left arm. There was an unconscious girl underneath debris and other students were scrambling to get her out. Another girl was writhing in pain, rolling all over the ground. There was a boy bleeding from the head. AEPi brothers made us go back inside as the police came.
According to Arthur Gerhauser, chief building inspector of the Town of Brookhaven, the failure of the deck was “at the ledger board, the connection of that ledger board to the house,” but the deck was structurally sound – it just couldn’t handle the amount of people on it.
“The home and the deck were constructed in 1973,” Gerhauser said. “They both benefited from a certificate of occupancy, and the deck was constructed in compliance with the code at the time.”
However, Gerhauser also said codes have since changed and the deck, if built today, would have been violating current code.
The location of the party is not affiliated with the fraternity’s governing body AEPi International.
“AEPi International, nor our housing operation, has no financial interest in that property and is not signer on any lease, etc.” said AEPi spokesperson Jonathan M. Pierce in an email. “… In fact, any property in which our fraternity’s housing operation has an interest would have to be properly zoned, inspected and up-to-code.”
After the fall, many people were afraid to call the police. I overheard that some didn’t want to “be the rat.” I did not care. I called 911 at 10:59 p.m.
“We got a call at approximately 11pm last night (Aug. 26),” said a Suffolk County Police spokesperson. “Two people were taken to the Stony Brook University Hospital for nonlife-threatening injuries.”
However, some people, like myself, transported themselves to the hospital so the amount of students hurt is unknown.
After the accident, the brothers couldn’t get enough cabs in a timely matter. I took an Uber back to campus and watched as other students used an unlit road in a wooded area to walk back to campus.
I suspect I was one of many students who checked myself into the hospital after taking a taxi or Uber back to campus. However, Stony Brook University Hospital would not give me an exact number of patients.
During my back X-ray, the technician asked me what happened. When I mentioned a deck he finished my sentence with astonishment. “You were also from that party?” he said.
According to that technician, they scanned multiple ankles, arms and legs from people in the same accident. He determined that I had a back sprain.
The Dean of Students office is currently calling all students who were temporarily hospitalized.
“We are grateful that the situation wasn’t worse than what is was,” Dean of Students Timothy Ecklund said. “This is something that we are very concerned about in looking at how our students are living off campus.”
The landlord, Aydinli Zeyit, is being held responsible because he had illegally converted this once one family unit home into a rooming house.
“What happens often times is that when people carve up these homes illegally into rooming houses,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said. “Often we find that these landlords do not maintain these homes as the surrounding neighbors do.”
According to Deputy Town Attorney David J. Moran, Zeyit has been prosecuted for illegal conversion this past May and plead guilty. However, at the time of inspections, this particular house was empty.
“We will bring the defendant to justice,” Moran said. “Not just at this property, but his own residence and another property that he owns in the Rocky Point area.”
Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright says that law department will continue to crack down on people, such as Zeyit, who violate town codes and town laws.
“Illegal, overcrowded homes and boarding houses will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Cartright said.
At the Brookhaven Town Hall meeting, it was revealed that the house at 15 Old Field Road had multiple violations, including no working smoke detectors, no working carbon monoxide detectors, a broken window in the basement, no Certificate of Occupancy to covert living room to bedroom and doors locked from the outside.
“The numerous violations at this location jeopardized the health, the safety and the wellness of the occupants as well as the visitors to the home that evening,” Cartright said.
The court date for Zeyit has been set for Oct. 27 at the Suffolk County 6th District Court.
Correction: Sept. 1, 2016
A previous version of this story identified the house on 15 Old Field Road in Setauket as an Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house. The structure is not an AEPi International affiliated house. A statement from the fraternity’s spokesperson Jonathan M. Pierce was added to the article.