Investigators now say they believe a Clemson student found dead on Monday had fallen off a bridge over Lake Hartwell.
The Oconee County Coroner’s Office said it appeared 19-year-old Tucker Hipps of Piedmont had died from a head injury at some point between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Monday morning. His body was found by a Clemson University police officer underneath the Highway 93 bridge later that afternoon.
The discovery came a few hours after Hipps had been reported missing around 1:45 p.m. by members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. According to a statement from the school, Hipps did not return from an activity run with other members of his frat.
In his brief report, Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis said Hipps’ injury “is consistent with him falling from one of the spans which is approximately 20 to 23 feet above the water surface.” Addis said Hipps was found in about 4 or 5-feet deep water, with rip rap rock lining the bottom. The Highway 93 bridge is a main route connecting the Clemson campus with the western shore. The bridge has sidewalks and concrete walls that are about 3 feet high.
The coroner did not say if foul play is suspected, explaining that he was waiting on the results of the investigation and for a toxicology analysis.
Students at Clemson University are grieving the sophomore’s death. Many students wore orange in solidarity with the Hipps family.
“We’re terribly saddened by Tucker’s death,” Gail DiSabatino, Clemson University vice president for student affairs, said. “It’s always tragic when someone so young and promising is lost. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”
DiSabatino said Clemson would conduct its own investigation in addition to one being handled by police and the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.
In its own statement, the national Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity confirmed it was looking into allegations that Hipps’s death was related to possible hazing.
“The Fraternity is aware of allegations being made through social media that the death was in some way linked to hazing,” the fraternity said in an email. “SigEp has a zero tolerance policy regarding hazing and is currently investigating these claims.” The statement added that Clemson’s chapter had been asked to suspend all of its scheduled programming to focus on supporting those close to Tucker.
However, Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw tried to downplay the rumors of hazing. “So far, there has been no indication in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office investigation that hazing played a part in the death of Tucker Hipps,” Crenshaw said in an email
Crenshaw also urged anyone driving across the bridge at that time to report to deputies if they observed anything that morning.