The neighbors share similar stories: LSU students drunkenly urinating outside their windows, making out on their patio furniture, stealing street signs and destroying Halloween decorations.
Many residents of Baton Rouge's Lake Villas subdivision believed they were buying luxury homes in a quiet neighborhood conveniently located near LSU's campus. Some anticipated building fences to keep their dogs contained — not to keep drunk college students out.
But now, homeowners say they're both frustrated and concerned, especially after a recent Phi Kappa Psi event in their neighborhood left an LSU freshman hospitalized with severe alcohol poisoning and his older fraternity brother arrested on hazing counts.
LSU Police booked a student with hazing Monday, two weeks after a freshman member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity was hospitalized with a blood al…
It doesn't appear that incident did much to tamp down on the partying. On weekends and game days, LSU students are known to take over the subdivision.
They have parked illegally and stumbled around in packs, littering the sidewalks with their empties: a discarded vodka bottle here, a trail of crushed beer cans there. On a recent Saturday evening, a corner of the Lake Villas neighborhood could have easily been confused for the LSU Parade Grounds after a full day of tailgating. Trash bins overflowed, tents had collapsed onto the ground, the smell of stale alcohol lingered in the air.
Baton Rouge police had busted the rager hours earlier, but some students still weren't ready to call it a night. Four young men carried an immobile friend into one house while a group of young women asked where they could find a fun party. The one they had just left was lame, they explained.
The neighborhood adults, several with children of their own, shake their heads in bemused exasperation at such scenes. Lake Villas, where houses range from $234,000 to $270,000, has transformed into a hub of off-campus partying, especially with coronavirus restrictions making it more difficult for students to host large gatherings on campus or at fraternity houses.
"We've had parties before but unlike anything since August," said Paula LeJeune, a Lake Villas homeowner. She was one of more than a dozen residents who recently met with Advocate reporters to share their frustration.
The group coined the nickname "frat breeze" for a section of Lake Breeze Drive where a cluster of houses are occupied by fraternity members — where the big party was held that Saturday afternoon, and where the alleged hazing took place just weeks earlier. Residents also recalled a waterslide arriving there several weekends earlier, porta-potties being delivered for tailgates and, of course, massive quantities of alcohol.
"We're telling LSU it's happening, we're telling Greek Life it's happening, and still nothing has changed," said Tracey Vicknair, another homeowner. "We don't want a child to die in our neighborhood."
After an evening of late-night revelry, the stories of two LSU underclassmen took a tragic turn on Monday.
But cracking down on parties in Lake Villas falls into a messy gray area. Because the neighborhood is relatively new — DSLD Homes finished constructing most of them in 2018 — the Homeowners Association is not fully off the ground. A company called Community Management, LLC, with ties to DSLD, is running those operations instead, though the future of that arrangement appears to be in limbo.
After a reporter reached out to DSLD in advance of this news story, the company scrubbed a page about the Lake Villas neighborhood from its website. The builder sales representative for Lake Villas who had previously been listed on the webpage did not return a message from The Advocate.
Deric Murphy, the engineer who urged the Baton Rouge Planning Commission to approve the neighborhood in 2015, also did not return a message. He spoke on behalf of developer Kevin Nguyen at the 2015 meeting, where the neighborhood was pitched as part of a larger "Burbank University" development plan that has included Arlington Marketplace and several student apartment complexes.
One common complaint among Lake Villas homeowners is the increasing number of renters in the neighborhood, many of them college students living three or four to a house. While some of the rental houses pose no problems at all, others have become notorious for drunken shenanigans, they said.
The homeowners say they've made several attempts to clamp down on those notorious houses, including pooling their money to hire an off-duty police officer to patrol the neighborhood on weekend evenings. They said that has helped, but it's too expensive to become a long-term solution.
This much is settled: an LSU freshman wound up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning after a night of partying with his fraternity brothers, …
LSU may not be much help because the parties are happening off campus, which means the task often falls to Baton Rouge police. Lake Villas is part of the department's Second District, which encompasses the area around LSU's campus and stretches into the southern corner of the city.
Capt. Mike Rarick, the Second District commander, said his officers respond to such complaints from a public safety perspective. For example, officers broke up the Saturday afternoon party on Nov. 14 because there were just too many people — an estimated 300 to 400 attendees — and they had parked on both sides of the street, making it near impossible for an ambulance or fire truck to pass through.
"What if somebody calls 911 and EMS can't get in there? We can't have that," Rarick said. He offered some simple advice: "Keep it safe and don't block the streets up. Don't create problems for us."
The pandemic restrictions on large gatherings have also made police responsible for protecting party-goers from themselves. But Rarick said officers have to prioritize, especially with the department's ongoing manpower shortages. Reports of violence or imminent danger have to come before large gatherings. He said landlords and homeowner associations often end up addressing such complaints.
Residents, however, are relieved when law enforcement steps in, like when they busted the recent party.
"To me, it was a happy day," said Clay Powell, a Lake Villas homeowner who recalled watching droves of LSU students pouring out toward the neighborhood entrance after the cops sent them home.
While the "frat breeze" parties are unique to Lake Villas, the underlying issues are playing out in countless other college towns.
Hank Nuwer, a professor emeritus at Franklin College in Indiana who's known for his extensive research on Greek life and hazing, said universities across the nation are trying to figure out how to deal with big parties that violate coronavirus restrictions, both off and on campus.
At Radford University in Virginia, a fraternity was suspended after hosting an off-campus party that resulted in dozens of coronavirus infections, television station WDBJ reported. At Indiana University in Bloomington, the Monroe County Health Department shut down a fraternity house through the summer of 2021 after it held a big Halloween party, the Indiana Daily Student reported.
And at UC Davis, officials recently announced that they were investigating a fraternity party after one of the members tested positive for coronavirus.
Nuwer said universities need to work with neighborhood watch groups and be prepared to yank charters and suspend or expel students over such incidents.
Meanwhile residents of Lake Villas are looking forward to the holiday season and LSU's winter break, hoping that fewer students on campus will mean fewer parties in their neighborhood.