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Statement of the parents of Harrison Kowiak to come

Media General News Service

Published: January 14, 2009

Harrison Kowiak

Hickory, NC – The Catawba County District Attorney’s Office has found no basis for criminal charges surrounding the death of a Lenoir-Rhyne University student from Tampa in November.

Harrison Kowiak, 19, died Nov. 18 as a result of a severe blow to the head during an off-campus game of capture the flag during fraternity pledge week, according to a Catawba County Sheriff’s Office investigation. Kowiak was a former Wharton High boys golfer.

“The results of that investigation were submitted to the District Attorney’s Office. After a full review of the investigative report and the events surrounding the death of Kowiak, the District Attorney’s Office finds that there is no basis for criminal charges related to his death,” according to a press release from the District Attorney’s Office.

The District Attorney’s Office was contacted Nov. 19 regarding the death of Kowiak, a sophomore at Lenoir-Rhyne University, by the sheriff’s office.

At the time, Sheriff David Huffman said Kowiak’s injury appeared to be accidental and did not involve foul play.

Kowiak’s mother, Lianne, spoke at her son’s memorial service. A standing-room-only crowd packed the sanctuary.

“Be safe,” Lianne Kowiak told friends, students and faculty that gathered. “Live your life to the fullest as Harrison did.”

Harrison Kowiak grew up in New Jersey and loved the New York Yankees and Knicks, she said. He enjoyed snowboarding and skateboarding but found his calling playing golf. The small, private Lutheran college in Hickory recruited Kowiak to be a member on the university’s golf team.

Kowiak played piano and was teaching himself how to play guitar, his mother said at the service. He loved to travel and became the family photographer when he, his parents and sister went on trips to New York and Asia.

Lianne Kowiak said the family is donating his blue Volvo to the college’s golf team so students without cars can have transportation. Her son was also an organ donor and his kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas and heart will be given to those who need them, she said.

His father, Brian, said he admired his son’s focus, determination and competitive drive.

“He opened up the world to me and I’m thankful for that,” Brian Kowiak said.

Kowiak’s golf teammate, Ty Dannenbring, said his friend “is in heaven and I’m sure he’s having an awesome time.”

Classes were suspended while the memorial service was held from 10 a.m. to noon, university spokesman Mike Langford said.

“It was a celebration of Harrison’s life and his time here with us,” Langford said. The college has about 1,600 students and Kowiak’s death shocked the tight-knit campus, he said.

When the service ended, students comforted each other outside of the red brick church, amid the fallen autumn leaves.

Tyler Cornack, a high school classmate of Kowiak’s, said he remembers his friend as a positive person who always had a smile on his face.

“He was genuine,” Cornack, 20, said. “He meant well. Every day. And that’s a rare thing.”

Cornack and Kowiak became friends when they both took a television production class at Wharton High School in New Tampa. The two would produce comedy videos for class projects, Cornack said.

News of Kowiak’s death left him shaken, Cornack said.

“It was just a freak accident,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

Mackenzie Parker lived in the same dorm with Kowiak at Lenoir-Rhyne last year and remembers his “beautiful smile.”

“He was such a good person,” said Parker, 19. “We need more people like him in the world. He had such an impact on everyone.”

The accident happened Nov. 17 around 11 p.m. in a pasture along N.C. 127 South, commonly known as Buffalo Farm, according to investigators. Between 17 and 20 members of the Theta Chi fraternity gathered at the private and gated field in southern Catawba County near Greedy Highway.

While playing capture the flag, Kowiak suffered a severe blow to the head, but witnesses were unable to explain the specifics of how the injury happened, authorities said.

Kowiak remained conscious after his injury but witnesses reported he was not making sense and lost some motor control.

Rather than calling 911, the students drove Kowiak to Frye Regional Medical Center, where he was treated before being flown to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. He later died.

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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