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Hazing News

Update in Tyler Cross death


Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

May 8, 2007 Tuesday


Possible hazing before death is investigated

Tony Plohetski AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Travis County prosecutors said Monday they are investigating a University of Texas fraternity for hazing prospective members at a November function hours before a pledge fell to his death from a dormitory balcony.

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla declined to describe the extent and type of hazing freshman Tyler Cross, an 18-year-old lacrosse player from Marietta, Ga., and other pledges may have been subjected to.

He also would not say how many members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity are under investigation or when the investigation may be finished. A person at the fraternity house Monday said the organization would have no comment. Its national office in Illinois could not be reached for comment.

“We are certainly concerned from our investigation that hazing did take place throughout the school year, including that night,” Escamilla said. “I am pleased with the status of our investigation. We have been moving diligently and have received a great deal of information.”

Cross was found dead Nov. 17 on the front sidewalk of University Towers, an off-campus dorm, after he accidently fell from a fifth-floor balcony, police said. His body was discovered by a person walking his dog about 4 a.m.

An autopsy report said Cross, who also was an accomplished high school football player and was following in his older brother’s footsteps in joining the fraternity, had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, a little more than twice the legal limit for driving in Texas.

The death is the second in recent years involving a UT pledge.

A Travis County grand jury in December indicted three leaders of the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity on multiple counts of hazing and serving alcohol to minors after a yearlong investigation into the death of 18-year-old Phanta “Jack” Phoummarath.

He was found dead in an off-campus fraternity house. Prosecutors said he and other pledges were encouraged to drink large amounts of alcohol that night. An autopsy determined that he died of alcohol poisoning and had a blood alcohol level of 0.41.

Cases against fraternity members are still pending. UT revoked the group’s status as a student organization until 2011.

Authorities also are investigating hazing allegations against a Huston-Tillotson fraternity. A member said he was assaulted Feb. 26.

“Certainly, hazing is alive and well,” Escamilla said. “I am very disappointed that it appears we have had three separate hazing incidents, two of which have involved a death.”

UT spokesman Don Hale said he couldn’t comment on whether university officials are doing a separate investigation into Cross’ death or possible hazing.

Cross’ father, Don Cross, said Monday that he was aware of Escamilla’s investigation but declined to comment further.

The UT chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was suspended in 1994 after university officials found it guilty of three hazing violations.

An investigation found that it had supported drinking by underage students, conducted lineups in which pledges were required to stand in a row and answer questions, and requested that pledges trespass on private property.

The Austin Fire Department also fined the fraternity $548 in 2000 after a fire that caused $1.5 million in damage to the house for “failing to abate a known fire hazard” by having shredded paper strewn across the basement floor at a party.

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