URBANA — In order to get insurance to pay for injuries to a University of Illinois student who was burned by a friend during an alcohol-fueled mishap, the state will not file criminal charges against the friend.
University of Illinois police had issued Erik Beitel, 21, a senior in computer science, a notice to appear in court Thursday for possible criminal charges stemming from a Sept. 27 drinking-related accident at his fraternity.
State’s Attorney Julia Rietz said Wednesday she has decided not to file reckless-conduct charges against Beitel because the UI’s disciplinary system is dealing with him and because his parents’ homeowner’s insurance policy will not cover the victim’s injuries if Beitel is criminally charged.
Rietz said she’s been in contact with the injured student’s family and they also prefer that no criminal charges be filed against Beitel so that his family’s insurance can help with the expense of caring for their son, a 19-year-old UI freshman.
About 11 p.m. that Thursday, Champaign firefighters and UI police were called to the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, 1110 S. Second St., C, where two young men had reportedly been burned.
A Champaign Fire Department investigative report said a group of people were in a second-floor room with Beitel, preparing to drink flaming shots of Everclear and Jagermeister.
The report said Beitel told a fire investigator he poured Jagermeister, a hard liquor, into a shot glass, then poured Everclear, a grain alcohol, on top.
"He attempted twice to light the shot but was unsuccessful. While pouring more Everclear into the shot glass, he attempted to light it again. The flame flashed back into the bottle and he threw it," the report said.
The burning bottle landed near his friend, splashing him and the couch where he was seated with flaming alcohol.
The friend’s pants and shirt caught fire, so he got on the floor and started rolling as a third person grabbed a dry-chemical fire extingusher and used it to douse his burning clothing and other parts of the floor where the alcohol was flaming.
Beitel helped get the burning clothes off the younger man, resulting in Beitel getting burns to his hands and lower arms, the report said.
Other members of the house heard the commotion and assisted the two burned men in getting out. The house’s fire-alarm system activated, drawing the fire and police response.
Fire officials determined the cause to be accidental.
UI police said Beitel’s burns were not that serious. Rietz said the victim’s were serious but she did not know if he had yet returned to class. After being treated at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield immediately after the incident, he went home to be with his family.
"We have been in communication with the injured young man’s family. Through their lawyers, they prefer to handle it as a civil matter," because of the insurance coverage, she said.
Additionally, the victim was part of a group that was drinking alcohol, Rietz said.
"His family considers this an accident," Rietz said.
The prosecutor also said Beitel’s attorney, Jamie Propps of Champaign, presented her with "numerous" reference letters of support for Beitel from his professors, fellow students and family members.