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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.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

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 current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily--http://realalaskadaily.com and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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