Prosecutor files charges in 2019 death of Washington State University fraternity pledge

A Washington prosecutor filed charges Wednesday afternoon related to the death of Sam Martinez, a Washington State University freshman and fraternity pledge who died in2019 of alcohol poisoning after attending an initiation event at the off-campus fraternity. 

Whitman County prosecutor Denis Tracey charged 15 current or former members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity with furnishing liquor to minors, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, according to a release from the county prosecutor’s office.

“The young men are each charged with supplying liquor to one or more pledges at a fraternity event that was a part of an initiation process that was at the fraternity” in November 2019, the release read. 

Martinez, 19, of Bellevue, Washington, died of acute alcohol intoxication on Nov. 12, 2019 after attending a fraternity event. The Whitman County Coroner ruled that the death was accidental.

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In 2020, Martinez’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university and the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity which he was pledging to join.

“While the charges may lead to some level of accountability, this is not justice. It does not bring us closure,” the family of Martinez said in a statement released to local media. “We are deeply disappointed that no one will face a charge of hazing in this case.”

Fraternity deaths have become common in higher education, with many of them linked directly to hazing. More serious charges have been brought in other fraternity-related deaths around the country.

In April, eight men were indicted in the hazing death of Bowling Green State University sophomore Stone Foltz with charges, including first-degree felony involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice, among others. In that case, each of the eight men was also charged with failure to comply with underage alcohol laws. 

Broken Pledge: A podcast series about fraternity hazing and the death of Collin Wiant

After the November 2018 death of Ohio University freshman Collin Wiant, eight former members of the university’s now-defunct Sigma Pi chapter were charged in relation to Wiant’s death. All eight of those men reached plea deals, though a wrongful death suit is still pending. 

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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