The parents of a Clemson University fraternity pledge, who fell to his death from a bridge during an alleged hazing incident, have filed two $25 million lawsuits against the university, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and three of its members.
In the court documents, it is alleged that sophomore Tucker Hipps, 19, was forced to walk along the railing of a narrow bridge during the early morning hours of Sept. 22, 2014, and eventually fell 25 feet into the rocky, shallow water below.
Hipps’ parents believe that the three fraternity members worked to cover up their role in their son’s death.
On the morning of his death, Hipps was one of 27 pledges and three fraternity members who went for a run. Hipps had been told bring breakfast for the group, but apparently arrived without any food, which angered some members, according to the lawsuit.
The group later met up for breakfast, but Hipps never showed up. Campus police were not notified that he was missing until nearly seven hours had passed. His body was located by searchers floating in the lake later that afternoon.
According to the documents obtained by CNN, Hipps was forced “to get onto the narrow railing along the bridge and walk some distance of the bridge on top of the railing. . . Tucker slipped from the railing and caught the railing under his arms . . . tried to climb back onto the bridge unassisted . . . lost his grip on the bridge and fell headfirst into the water below, striking his head on the rocks in the shallow water.”
A coroner determined that Hipps, whose toxicology report showed no sign of alcohol or drugs, died from a blunt force trauma to the head. According to lawsuits, the fraternity brothers tried to hide their role in Hipps’ death by removing text messages and call records from their phones, along with modifying their phone numbers.
The lawsuit goes on to state that fraternity members attempted to stall Hipps’ girlfriend, who had grown concerned after not being able to locate Tucker, by telling her that he’d been seen in the campus library.
“We believe they know [what happened] and they’re refusing to tell it. I guess you can call that a cover-up,” Hipps’ father Gary told CBS earlier this year. A criminal investigation into Hipps’ death has been at a standstill for months after detectives have been unable to detail exactly what happened.
Clemson officials reportedly suspended Sigma Phi Epsilon for five years last February for a number violations unrelated to Hipps’ death. The fraternity released a statement earlier today that read: “We intend to fully investigate these allegations, as we have done previously. Our investigation has revealed absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing and no evidence to support or corroborate these allegations.”
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