Clemson University Death: New Witness Comes Forward, Claims Tucker Hipps Died During Fraternity Hazing
A new witness statement claims that Tucker Hipps, the Clemson University student who died in 2014, was taking part in fraternity pledge hazing at the time of his death.
New Witness Claims Tucker Hipps Died Due To Frat Hazing
Tucker Hipps, 19, died on September 21, 2014 — his body was found floating in the shallow waters of South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell,, and his tragic death was quickly linked to the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, where Hipps was a pledge. The Hipps family recently filed two $25 million civil suits against Clemson University and Sigma Phi Epsilon, claiming fraternity members attempted to cover up their role in Hipps’ death.
According to the suit, new eyewitness testimony suggests that Hipps was forced by fraternity brothers to walk on the railing along a bridge over Lake Hartwell after he got into a confrontation with one of the brothers. “Tucker slipped from the railing and caught the railing under his arms … tried to climb back onto the bridge unassisted … lost his grip on the bridge and fell headfirst into the water below, striking his head on the rocks in the shallow water,” reads the lawsuit.
An autopsy found Hipps suffered injuries to his arms, legs and head, consistent with allegations that Hipps fell head-first into the lake. Three fraternity members are named in the suit — Thomas King, Campbell Starr and Samuel Carney, son of U.S. Rep. John Carney from Delaware — as having been deceptive with authorities about Hipps’ death. The new witness statement claims that King was directly involved in the confrontation with Hipps prior to his death, and suggests he and all others present failed to try to rescue Hipps and kept Hipps’ fall secret for seven hours. According to the lawsuit, King, Starr and Carney also lied to Hipps’ girlfriend about Hipps’ whereabouts after his death. Fraternity members have claimed that they lost Hipps during the run and did not see him again.
Hipps and other pledges were allegedly forced to embark on an early morning run at dawn on the night of Sept. 21, a hazing practice that has been banned by the University. Text messages reportedly show that pledges were instructed to show up for the dawn run wearing “dark clothes” so that they wouldn’t be caught. The lawsuit further alleges that King, Starr and Carney deleted text messages and call histories prior to the investigation.
Criminal Investigation Into Tucker Hipps’ Death Remains Open
Solicitor Chrissy Adams released a statement casting doubt on this new witness, saying that there were “multiple issues” with the statement, most notably the fact that the witness waited so long to come forward. Furthermore, Adams stated, the witness “describes the group of students he saw on the bridge as having a good time which would indicate that there was no force or hazing involved.” However, this assertion seems premature, as the very nature of hazing requires individuals to fake having fun to survive an uncomfortable activity.
Adams continued, adding, “During the interview with the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office this witness appears to be coaching himself on the video when he is alone in the interview room. I commend the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office for their thorough investigation into the death of Tucker Hipps and my heart goes out to the Hipps Family for their tragic loss. Unless any other leads come into the Sheriff’s Office, the criminal investigation is at a standstill.”
The attorney for the Hipps family, Jennifer Spragins Burnett, was not happy with the solicitor’s statements. Brunett responded to the Solicitor’s statements, suggesting that the solicitor’s tone was unprofessional, saying, “While we believe that counsel making public comment on the credibility or substance of witness statements is both inappropriate and prejudicial, we are compelled by recent events to respond. We could not disagree more with Ms. Adams’ opinions regarding the credibility of the new witness or the witness’ statements.”
As of Thursday, Aug. 13, the criminal investigation into Hipps’ death remains open with no criminal charges filed.