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15 fraternity members charged in alcohol-poisoning death of Washington State University pledge Sam Martinez

Fourth fraternity-related death in 1 month
Fraternity and drinking culture questioned after 4 student deaths in 1 month 02:37

The Whitman County prosecutor has filed criminal charges against 15 current or former members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Washington State University following the death of a student from alcohol poisoning. The charges filed Wednesday are related to the death of 19-year-old freshman Sam Martinez of Bellevue, Washington.

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

CBS affiliate KIRO-TV reports that in February, the Pullman Police Department chief also recommended filing hazing charges, but the one-year statute of limitations for hazing had already passed.

The men are charged with "furnishing alcohol to minors" at the fraternity event that was part of an initiation process, Prosecuting Attorney Denis P. Tracy said. Furnishing liquor to minors is a gross misdemeanor in Washington state punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

KIRO-TV reports that after the misdemeanor charges were announced, Martinez's family said in a statement: "That is insulting compared to the devastating consequences of their actions, which directly led to Sam's death, and the loss we are living with for the rest of our lives."

"This is not justice. It does not bring us closure. We are deeply disappointed that no one will face a charge of hazing in this case," Martinez's family said.

Pullman police chief told CBS affiliate KREM that the investigation took so long because police faced staffing shortages and challenges interviewing the dozens of people involved.

"The logistics of trying to set up in-person interviews with all the witnesses — many who were not in Pullman when we were trying to interview them — really added to the timeline of completing this investigation," said Chief Gary Jenkins.

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.

The lawsuit indicated there was a "Big-Little" event at Alpha Tau Omega where Martinez and another pledge were given "a ½ gallon bottle of hard alcohol," and pledges were "instructed to consume the family's alcoholic 'drink' before the end of the evening."

The documents indicated that by "10:30 PM, Sam had lost consciousness." About an hour later, some fraternity brothers moved him down to the basement and positioned him lying on his side.

The next morning, "emergency personnel were finally summoned but were unable to revive Sam as a result of the delay. Sam was pronounced dead at the scene," according to the lawsuit.

A coroner said Martinez died four hours before the first 911 call reported his condition

Martinez's blood alcohol content was at 0.372 during his autopsy.

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