Wednesday, June 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Parents Say Hazing|Killed Their Son

(CN) - A fraternity killed a freshman pledge by forcing him onto a bread and water diet while inflicting extreme exercise regimes on him in a hazing ritual, his parents claim in Dallas County Court. The Rev. Donnie and Katrina Wade seek punitive damages from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Prairie A&M University.

Donnie Wade II entered Prairie A&M University this fall as a biology major and intended to become a doctor, his parents say. He decided to pledge to Phi Beta Sigma on the campus about 25 miles northwest of Houston. After meeting with defendant Marvin Jackson, a "frat brother," Wade had to pay a $900 initiation fee, his parents say.

Wade and his fellow pledges then were forced onto a bread and water diet and had to do menial tasks for fraternity brothers, who repeatedly beat them with paddles "as a bonding mechanism" to make pledges "closer as a group of brothers," the complaint states.

In October, the initiation entered a new phase and the pledges had to participate in mandatory exercise sessions behind the ROTC building at a local high school. At no time did anyone in the fraternity ask about the health of the young men, nor was a physical requested or required, the Wades say.

Dressed in boots, sweats and additional layers of clothing, the pledges were awakened before dawn and had to do running exercises on a track, run up and down bleachers, and other exercises. Witnesses said Wade repeatedly fell behind during the first of these events, called an Indian Run.

In an "Indian Run," the person at the back of a line sprints to the front, as the group continues running. Wade had to be helped across the finish line after this, the Wades say. Throughout the exercises that followed, they say, their son continued to show signs of fatigue until he collapsed.

When he came to, Wade said that he was hurting; he stood, but collapsed again. Jackson and other fraternity brothers told the other pledges, "Donnie is all right, he's just tired," according to the complaint.

The parents say the fraternity brothers rejected the aid of a bystander, who offered to get medical assistance, and failed to seek medical aid on their own. Instead, his parents say, pledges carried what they believed was an unconscious Wade to a nearby car and left him there until the end of the initiation rite.

When two fraternity brothers volunteered to take Wade to the hospital, they found he was dead.

The Wades say Jackson asked the new fraternity members lie and say that Wade was not present during the exercise session. He also allegedly asked them to tell authorities that the intensity of the exercise was the result of their own eagerness to make the fraternity and not a requirement for membership.

The Wades seek $30 million in compensatory damages and $67 million in punitive damages for wrongful death. They are represented by Kevin Kelley with Kelley Witherspoon of Dallas.


Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.