A state district judge in Texas has ordered the national and University of Texas chapters of a fraternity to pay $16.2 million to the parents of a freshman pledge who fell to his death two years ago after he was subjected to hazing. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity must pay each of the parents of Tyler Cross, who was from Marietta, Georgia, $2.5 million for mental anguish and nearly $81,000 for funeral expenses, as well as additional damages. A default judgment was entered by Judge John Dietz. The judge issued the order when the national and local SAE chapters failed to respond to a lawsuit filed by the Cross family in September. State law allows the chapters to seek a new trial, which could be granted if they are able to explain why they didn’t respond to the suit. They must also prove a defense to the allegations against them can be made.
A civil case against the SAE alumni board and the housing corporation is still pending. Family members of another University of Texas pledge, Jack Phoummarath, settled a case in July with Lambda Phi Epsilon for $4.2 million. The student, a Houston freshman, died in 2005 after drinking a fatal amount of alcohol during a pledge party.
The Cross family tried to mediate and settle the case out of court, but got no response from chapter lawyers. Travis County prosecutors began an investigation into the fraternity after Tyler fell from his fifth-floor balcony of an off-campus dormitory in November 2006. Investigators have said that the night before his body was discovered, he and other pledges were given half-gallon liquor bottles to drink. An autopsy report revealed that Tyler had a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit for driving in Texas. Earlier this year, two former pledge trainers pleaded no contest to hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors and were sentenced to four days in jail and two years of deferred adjudication, which is a form of probation. The former president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Texas chapter also pleaded no contest to the charges and received one year of deferred adjudication, and a fourth member pleaded no contest to failure to report hazing and also received one year of deferred adjudication.
The fraternity reached an agreement with University officials that allows the organization to keep operating if it changes some of its pledging and social activities. Under the agreement, the group must give advance notice of large parties, limit the attendance of guests to those named on a pre-party guest list, hire off-duty police officers to provide security and limit parties or events to Fridays and Saturdays with an ending time of 2 a.m., among other provisions.
The Cross family said in its lawsuit that, in the days before their son died, he was subjected to hazing that included beatings with large sticks of bamboo and paddles, being forced to drink large amounts of alcohol, sleep deprivation and “other acts of assault or battery.” The family wanted to use the lawsuit to voice its wishes about changes it wanted the fraternity to make. Robby Alden, a lawyer from Austin, Texas, represented the Cross family. If this sort of thing continues to go on at colleges and universities, those fraternities that condone “stupidity” of the sort set out above should be banned on campus.
Source: Austin American-Statesman