The mother of an East Carolina University (ECU) student, who died in a single-car wreck at the end of a sorority “Hell Week,” has filed a wrongful death suit against the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. It’s alleged in the suit that hazing played a role in the fatal incident.
The Plaintiff, Bernadette Carter, a Raleigh resident, has accused the sorority’s national office, its ECU chapter and its members of depriving the 2010 pledges of sleep and forcing them to engage in demeaning activities. She contends these factors led to the death of her daughter. Victoria T’nya-Ann Carter, 20, was one of two ECU students who died on Nov. 20, 2010, when the car they were riding in ran off the highway and crashed into a tree.
Kamil Arrington, a sorority pledge, was driving the Toyota Yaris at about 6:30 in the morning. The Delta big sisters had selected Arrington as a designated driver who would ferry the pledges to practices, pre-dawn hair appointments and other engagements. Carter, who was in the backseat of the car, was killed in the crash. The other student, Briana Gather, 20, died the next day. A fourth student in the car survived the crash.
It was alleged in the lawsuit that the driver, who pleaded guilty last year to two counts of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, was suffering from “excessive and overwhelming fatigue, exhaustion and sleep deprivation” and “fell asleep behind the wheel.” Officials at East Carolina University conducted an investigation after the incident, and it appears they had difficulty getting information from sorority members. Subsequently, ECU put the sorority on a two-year probation. The national organization also investigated the incident and suspended the ECU chapter until at least 2015.
Dangers of Hazing
Not only is the Carter family seeking damages, they have another mission: to “change the culture” of hazing activities. The hazing in this case culminated in Delta’s “Hell Week,” which was the last week of pledging. As part of the initiation process, 17 pledges were forced to live together in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment and engage in other forms of hazing. The lawsuit alleges:
Among the hazing exercises were the “Delta TV,” in which the pledges were forced to get into and hold a push-up position. They were required to do “wall sits” in which they had to push their backs against the wall, then slide down until they were in a sitting position and maintain that stance for a lengthy time. They did the “Delta Chair” – standing on one leg – and held heavy bricks over their heads, subject the entire time to ridicule and humiliation from the Big Sisters. The pledges were forced to wear “Delta Lipstick,” hot sauce rubbed on their lips, and to down a “Delta Apple,” a large raw onion, as well as eat large amounts of cottage cheese and drink buttermilk.
The pledges were required to style their hair a specific way and wear clothes of a certain style. They were required to put in long hours preparing for “probate,” a ceremony in which the sorority makes a public showing of its new members. The night and morning hours before the fatal wreck, the pledges had been practicing and perfecting the “probate death march,” according to the suit.
The pledges were forced by Delta big sisters, Delta advisers, and alumni to “practice the march over and over again until they ‘got it right.’ ” In preparation for the induction ceremony and probate, the Delta big sisters arranged hair appointments for Arrington, Carter, and two other pledges at 6:30 a.m. The pledges did not have an opportunity to sleep after the practices for the probate death march, nor had they been able to sleep much with 17 pledges in one apartment. It was that sleep deprivation that Carter contends led to the death of her daughter.
I have to wonder how many parents know that the activities described in this lawsuit, if accurate, may well be a routine part of fraternal life on some college campuses. Hopefully, it’s not, but this case makes me wonder. Who would believe girls in a sorority would act in the irresponsible manner these “sisters” did?
John M. McCabe, a lawyer from Raleigh, N.C., represents the Plaintiffs in this case.
— Jere Beasley, Founding Attorney
Source: News Observer