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Statement of family and more coverage of Lenoir-Rhyne case

Click here and scroll down to read statement.

Draft below:

January 14, 2009

STATEMENT FROM BRIAN KOWIAK AND LIANNE KOWIAK, PARENTS OF HARRISON KOWIAK

Theta Chi, its members, and Lenoir Rhyne University should take no solace in the fact that the District Attorney elected not to file criminal charges in this case.  We have conducted our own independent investigation in advance of a civil action, and the true facts of this hazing incident will be revealed at the appropriate time.

The Kowiak family has suffered an unimaginable loss.  Harrison Kowiak was a loving son and brother who touched the lives of many people with his optimistic spirit and zest for life. He was a gifted athlete and an academic scholar who was driven to master any task. On the night of November 17, 2008, the brothers of Theta Chi Fraternity at Lenoir Rhyne University orchestrated a Hell-Week initiation ceremony to haze Harrison.

As a result of the negligence and carelessness of Theta Chi, its members and Lenoir Rhyne University, Harrison Kowiak lost his life after suffering a catastrophic brain injury during the hazing event. Theta Chi and Lenoir Rhyne University irresponsibly encouraged and allowed Hell-Week and hazing activities to take place.  Even more appalling is that, after a life was senselessly lost as a result of hazing, Theta Chi and Lenoir Rhyne University have failed to take any affirmative steps to punish or sanction the members of Theta Chi for their actions.

A young man lost his life and the law will not allow the university and fraternity to turn a blind eye to this tragedy. The Kowiak family is committed to making sure that hazing activities cease and that no family is forced to undergo heartbreak like this in the future. This incident proves that fraternity hazing is deadly. Hazing must be stopped and those who condone these dangerous activities will be held accountable for their actions.

January 14, 2009
Family believes their son was the victim of a fatal fraternity hazing

TAMPA — The family of a young Tampa man who died following fraternity activities in North Carolina last fall intend to file legal action against his college, his fraternity, and his fraternity brothers, citing “hazing” as the reason for the boy’s death.

Harrison Kowiak, 19, a standout golfer from Wharton High School, died after he hit the ground the night of Nov. 17, while engaged in a pledge week activity in the middle of a dark pasture off-campus, police said. A freshman at Lenoir-Rhyne University, a small liberal arts school in Hickory, NC, Kowiak was hoping to join the Theta Chi fraternity.

Eric Farr of the District Attorney’s office in Newton, NC, released a statement this week saying prosecutors found “no basis for criminal charges” in the death following an investigation by the Catawba Sheriff’s Department.

But an attorney for Kowiak’s family said this afternoon they believe hazing is to blame. Miami attorney Justin Leto of the law firm Alan Goldfarb, PA, issued this statement today on behalf of the family:

“Theta Chi, its members and Lenoir Rhyne University should take no solace in the fact that the District Attorney elected not to file criminal charges in this case,” the statement says. “We have conducted our own independent investigation in advance of a civil action, and the true facts of this hazing incident will be revealed at the appropriate time.”

To read the complete statement, click here.

After the accident, the fraternity brothers took Kowiak to Frye Medical Center. Next, he was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

In an interview this afternoon, Leto said the family believes Kowiak was one of two pledges led to the field dressed in light colored clothes.

They were given the task to go from one point to another, but along the way the brothers, dressed in dark clothes, presented obstacles to the pledges, Leto said.

“There was physical contact,” he said. “They were pushed, they were tackled.”

Kowiak was being tackled when he fell to the ground and suffered a traumatic blow to his head, Leto said.

At the time, Catawba Sheriff’s Office said they didn’t believe the activities to be considered “hazing.” But Leto said the boys of the fraternity gave conflicting accounts of what actually happened.

“Even more appalling is that, after a life was senselessly lost as a result of hazing,” the family’s statement says, “Theta Chi and Lenoir Rhyne University have failed to take any affirmative steps to punish or sanction the members of Theta Chi for their actions.”

Dale Taylor, executive director of the fraternity, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Rebecca Catalanello, Times staff writer

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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