Ralph Nunez

By Rachel Grussi

On May 7, 2009, Raphael Nuñez, Jr., a UC Irvine computer science major in his first year, was killed. The exact events of that night leading up to his death still remain inconclusive, and an ongoing lawsuit by Ralph’s family attempts to assign accountability to various parties, including the UCI administration, Sigma Pi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and about 200 UCI students. Despite the many involved, few can seem to get their stories straight, lack information, or simply do not care to share about what happened at around 11 p.m. that Thursday night, when a night’s fun ended in a horrific tragedy.

According to the OC Register, Ralph was traveling to Costa Mesa’s Shark Club onboard a bus, where allegations state partyers pre-gamed with liberal amounts of “jungle juice,” a hazardously-enticing combination of vodka and fruit juice. The alcohol’s presence would prevent many witnesses from sharing information, as it permeated both the bus to Shark Club and the blood of quite a few underage drinkers, including Ralph.

Somehow, the OC Register states, the young man with the charming smile, the one who could “handle his alcohol,” later found his way onto the 405 freeway, where two cars which could not possibly stop in time struck him fatally. The resulting collision claimed the life of a mere eighteen-year-old, a beloved son, a brother, a popular friend.

What happened? Allegations range from a frat hazing to a freak accident. The coroner confirmed a BAC of 0.29 percent in Ralph’s system — nearly four times the intoxication threshold — as well as trace amounts of marijuana and ecstasy.

However, even after three years distancing his friends from May 7, all of Ralph’s friends contacted for interviews, including frat brothers, dorm mates, and his former girlfriend declined to speak. Silence prevails, likely because no one wants to be blamed. However, in incidents like these, only one person is truly responsible. Many would cite the school, the upbringing of the person, or his friends as responsible, but the only hard evidence is the alcohol, which Ralph consumed voluntarily.

According to UCI Alcohol Education Director Doug Everhart, around 60 percent of UCI students claim to drink “responsibly/moderately.”

Anywhere from 1/3-1/2 state that they do not drink at all, while the last 10 percent admit to overconsumption.
For underage drinkers, there is a “zero tolerance” policy, meaning that those under 21 may not have a Blood Alcohol Content over 0.01 percent, allowing for the presence of non-alcoholic, BAC-increasing products such as Nyquil. Everhart states that many students get themselves into trouble because they do not know exactly what they are drinking, or the impending negative effects on their bodies. For example, a BAC of 0.08 percent is the legally-intoxicated status; however, 0.06 percent is the threshold for the pleasant sensations. Any higher and drinkers lose coordination and vision, as well as symptoms such as nausea. Many are unaware of the threshold, however, and continue to drink excessively past this point.

The Ralph Nuñez tragedy seems to supplant the unexpectedly-grim consequences that can result. To avoid such, Everhart suggests one drink an hour, which is the rate at which the liver cleanses alcohol from the blood. But at a party, where one’s friends are knocking back drinks without care, is it realistic to expect that students will fight the majority and relegate themselves to one drink? And what about that 10 percent of over consumers? What is being done for them? Who are they? The only way to find them is when they get into trouble, which not all of them do until it is too late.

Ralph never faced a serious citation. The police never caught him for underage possession, unlike some of his friends, according the Superior Court records. He could have been among that 10 percent, but the critical time for intervention came and went.
College students drink; “kids do that,” as even Ralph’s father admitted. The UCI zero tolerance policy for underage drinkers, who may be more inexperienced and prone to accidents, is in place, but enforcing can be much more challenging. In reality, is it the school’s job, or the personal responsibility of the student? Ralph was not a troubled kid or a rebellious person; he was just a regular student. He was bright and made people laugh. He played rugby. He had a beautiful smile and a family who loved him, especially his father, who laughs as he remembers stories of his son.

But Ralph also liked to party. According to his father, Ralph started drinking when he was 15. He would go to family parties and drink there with them, which is not unusual for many cultures.

Ralph faced knowledge of the risks, having attended Sigma Pi’s Sam Spady philanthropy and taken the alcohol.edu presentation required of all incoming freshmen. He had a chance to be as “educated” about alcohol as even Mr. Everhart would have liked, and yet Ralph still chose to drink as much as he did, not seeking harm but a good time without caution. As Ralph’s case indicates, some things are only hammered home in experience; they cannot be taught or learned in a classroom. The question remains, however: how does a student learn without tragedy? Rather than focusing on blame, perhaps more effort should be put forth into answering that question by each individual.