A state judge has approved a $250,000 settlement between Clemson University and the family of a student who died during a fraternity pledge run nearly three years ago.
Clemson on Thursday announced its settlement with the family of Tucker Hipps, a 19-year-old sophomore who was found dead underneath a bridge over Lake Hartwell in September 2014. The Oconee County Coroner’ Office said his injuries were consistent with a fall from the bridge, which investigators believe occurred during a run with other pledge members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. However, other fraternity members have given different accounts of what happened.
Court records show the deal was approved earlier this month, but Clemson made it public by releasing a statement Thursday. “Before Tucker’s death, Clemson had begun instituting changes to its policies regarding its Greek system to improve the experience for our students,” the unattributed email stated. “After Tucker’s death, the University accelerated its efforts and made additional substantial changes to its Greek system… As a result of these changes, the 2016-2017 academic year saw a substantial decrease in major charges and violations of the Student Code of Conduct by fraternity members.”
Under the settlement terms, Clemson agreed to create a $50,000 endowment in Hipps’ name for a Boys State camper to attend the school. It also agreed to put Hipps’ name on a pew in a future student chapel and pursue a possible memorial golf tournament.
Parents Cindy and Gary Hipps filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity, several older members, and the school itself in March 2015. The lawsuit claims Hipps was hazed on the run after he did not bring breakfast for fraternity members as older students had ordered. It also claimed he was then forced to walk a narrow rail on the bridge as punishment. However, members of the fraternity have strongly denied they were present when Hipps fell, instead saying the former Wren High School student had dropped behind on the run. No one has ever faced criminal charges in his death.
“We lost our only son, Tucker, in a senseless way,” the Hipps parents wrote in their own statement. “No student should ever go to college and be expected to participate in dangerous activities. No student should ever experience hazing.”
Attorneys will receive $212,000 of the total. Sigma Phi has since been suspended from campus through 2019 for repeated violations of the conduct code.
State legislators last year created a new transparency law named in Hipps honor which requires colleges list all conduct violations by student organizations. Clemson on Thursday released its list. The school reported ten different incidents by Greek organizations the past two years.