DURHAM, N.C. (CN) – Theta Chi Fraternity’s violent hazing of pledges “to see what they are made of” killed a 19-year-old sophomore during “hell week” at Lenoir-Rhyne University, his family claims in Superior Court.
Despite state laws, university rules and fraternity guidelines that ban hazing, officials at the school in Hickory, N.C., did little or nothing to rein in hazing, sending students the message that it’s acceptable there, the complaint states.
Harrison Kowiak, of Tampa, Fla., was attending the university on golf and academic scholarships, when he decided to pledge the Theta Chi fraternity.
On the night of his death, in November 2008, he and another pledge were blindfolded and driven to an off-campus farm, where they were told to cross a field and retrieve “sacred fraternity rocks,” a symbol of initiation into the organization. As they proceeded across the field, they were repeatedly punched, shoved and tackled by members of the fraternity, and because the fraternity brothers were dressed in dark clothing and the field was dark, the pledges couldn’t see which direction the blows were coming from, the family says.
The assault by fraternity brothers, many of whom were on the university football team, exacted a terrible toll on the much smaller Kowiak. After being struck several times, he collapsed, wheezing and gasping for breath, and did not respond to attempts to revive him.
Despite realizing he was injured, the fraternity brothers failed to get Kowiak prompt medical attention, his family says. They drove him to a hospital and tried to cover up what had happened by telling authorities Kowiak was injured in a flag football game, according to the complaint.
Airlifted to the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Kowiak died of his injuries that night. An autopsy revealed he died of blunt head trauma, and had sustained numerous bruises and abrasions on his back.
Plaintiff Guy Crabtree, court-appointed administrator of Kowiak’s estate, is represented by David Kirby of Kirby & Holt LLP in Raleigh, N.C.