The family of a Clemson student who died last year has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the school and three fraternity members, including the son of Delaware U.S. Rep. John Carney.
Tucker Hipps, a 19-year-old sophomore, died after going over a bridge railing and into Lake Hartwell on Sept. 22. His family’s lawsuit alleges that Hipps was the victim of a fraternity hazing ritual, according to Columbia, S.C.’s newspaper, The State.
Hipps was one of 27 Sigma Phi Epsilon pledges embarking on a pre-dawn pledge run.
The suit names Clemson University as well as fraternity members Thomas Carter King, Campbell T. Starr and Samuel Quillen Carney.
Carney’s father, John, has held Delaware’s at-large congressional seat since 2011. Prior to that, he served as the state’s lieutenant governor. He is a Democrat.
The Hipps’ family alleges that Hipps had a confrontation with members of the fraternity before going over the Lake Hartwell bridge near Clemson’s campus. Other fraternity members engaged in a cover-up, the family claims.
The suit claims that during the run, King and Carney would “threaten the pledges by saying, ‘Do not let us pass you.'” It also alleges that Hipps falling into the water was not reported to police until 1:15 p.m., seven hours after it occurred.
Hipps, who was pledge class president, was put in charge of providing breakfast for 30 fraternity members ahead of the morning run. But he did not bring the food because he said he did not have enough money, the suit claims. After a confrontation with King near the bridge, the political science major fell head-first into Lake Hartwell.
The suit alleges that fraternity members engaged in a cover-up by deleting group text messages. Both King and Starr deleted phone calls while Starr switched phone numbers during the investigation into Hipps’ death.
The suit also alleges that one pledge sent a text message to Hipps’ girlfriend stating that he had been seen in the library. He also sent a message insisting that she “should help buy time” while fraternity members searched for Hipps after the fall.
While Hipps’ death is still being investigated, an autopsy found that he died from blunt-force trauma to the head consistent with a head-first fall. The suite described the Lake Hartwell water under the bridge as “shallow.” A toxicology report came back negative, according to The State.
The family questions whether Hipps was forced to leap off of the bridge, an act which it claims is part of a long-standing fraternity tradition.
“A long tradition existed among the members of the local chapter of requiring, encouraging and forcing pledges to jump off one or more bridges over Lake Hartwell and swim to shore,” the suit claims.
The family accuses Clemson of failing to properly inform fraternities about its policies surrounding hazing. It also failed to immediately suspend the fraternity after Hipps’ death, the suit asserts.
Clemson suspended the fraternity for five years earlier this year.