A Clemson University fraternity is facing a lawsuit after a student’s death last September. Tucker Hipps was pledging for the university’s chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity when he was allegedly “forced” to walk along the railing of a bridge during an early morning run. During this initiation activity, Hipps lost his balance and fell to his death. Since the tragic accident, his family has filed a lawsuit against the fraternity leaders directing the pledges. The newest information to be added to the family’s case is a new account of what exactly happened that fateful day. Some of the fraternity members and other people associated with Clemson University explained that they saw Hipps as he “slipped from the railing and caught the railing under his arms.” New court documents also claim one witness said that Hipps tried to pull himself back onto the railing but “lost his grip on the bridge and fell headfirst into the water below, striking his head on the rocks in the shallow water.” His body was later found floating in the lake near the Clemson University campus.
The new witness remains anonymous and will continue to be unidentified because the investigation is still ongoing. The defendants of the case include senior fraternity members, Thomas Carter King, ,Samuel Quillen Carney and Campbell T. Starr. The men deny that they played any role in the accidental death of Hipps. In the defendant’s legal answer they claim that Hipps was “voluntarily jumping into the water” and his death is because of his own negligent behavior. There is also the argument that the case be dropped because the fraternity chapter has since dissolved before this lawsuit was ever filed.
Hipps’ family is continuing with the wrongful death suit. They are even claiming that the defendants tried to cover up the early morning death. Seeking $25 million in damages, the family says that King confronted Hipps’ that fateful morning because he did not bring breakfast as he had been told to. After Hipps’ fatal fall, some say that King used his cellphone flashlight to search the water for fallen pledge. The same witness accounted that King then called Starr. Starr did not confirm that the alleged phone call took place, but he did tell authorities that he knew about that Tucker was “being held responsible” for not bringing breakfast.
King denies searching the water for Hipps. Instead, he claims that he was using the flashlight to see other fraternity pledges running across a bridge adjacent to the bridge he was standing on. It was not until later that some of the pledges called campus police to search for Hipps. The other pledges explained to the police that he was lagging behind during the run across the bridge.
Throughout the fraternity chapter’s existence, there have been many allegations there was traditions made of “requiring, pressuring, encouraging and forcing” new members to jump off bridges. Injury attorneys are working hard to prove that the defendants did indedd have knowledge of how Tucker Hipps’ death happened.
Unfortunately, this new witness account is being discredited by the prosecutor and the sheriff’s office. This means the investigation has been at a standstill as detectives continue to look for further details into what happened that morning. Hipps’ family is upset at the news, but officials says there were just too many issues with the new witness testimony.
“The sheriff’s department thoroughly investigated and interviewed the alleged witness. There will be no criminal charges resulting from this witness’ statements,” explained Oconee County Solicitor Chrissy Adams.
Adams also released further explanation in a public statement posted on her website. She said the witness saw several kids on the bridge, but was not sure of what time or day it was. His story is further discredited by other descriptions of the children, such as the color of clothing they were wearing. Investigators claim the fraternity pledges were wearing dark colors, the witness claimed he saw kids wearing orange.
As Hipps’ family continues the fight for justice, his parents say their only child died trying to gain a brotherhood.
“That’s part of the reason he wanted to be in the fraternity, so he had a brotherhood,” Hipps mother said. “His dad and I miss him so terribly. He still is the first thing and the last thing we think about every day and he is just terribly missed.”