Congressman's son a defendant in fraternity-death lawsuits

AP News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2015 10:32 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The son of U.S. Rep. John Carney, D-Del., is one of five defendants in two lawsuits seeking at least $50 million stemming from the death of a Clemson University fraternity pledge.

Each of the lawsuits filed Monday seeks at least $25 million in actual damages in the September death of 19-year-old Tucker Hipps. Hipps fell from a bridge into rocky, shallow water during a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity run.

In addition to Samuel Quillen Carney, the lawsuits name two other fraternity members, as well as the university and the fraternity.

"No one — certainly no parent — can feel anything but sympathy for this family's grief and anger," John Carney and his wife, Tracey Quillen Carney, said in a statement released by his office on Tuesday. "We have faith that those trusted with investigative and legal authority will act based on facts."

"Our advice to Sam since the tragedy in September has been to tell the truth and remember that any detail might help," the statement said. "That continues to be our message to him."

Tucker Hipps disappeared Sept. 22, 2014 during an early-morning run. His fraternity brothers noticed him missing at breakfast, and called police about eight hours later, they said.

Searchers found his body in rocky, shallow water below a bridge over Lake Hartwell near the Clemson campus. He had fallen headfirst.

The lawsuit said that Hipps was not under the influence of alcohol or any other substance during the early-morning run.

There has been no ruling on the manner of Hipps' death and the case is still under investigation by the local sheriff, said Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis.

The lawsuits, one brought by Hipps' estate and a wrongful death suit brought by his parents, say fraternity brothers ordered Hipps to bring biscuits, hash browns and 2 gallons of chocolate milk to the fraternity before the run but he said he didn't have enough money.

One of the fraternity brothers confronted Hipps about not bringing the food, the suit said, later adding, "Tucker went over the railing of the bridge into shallow waters of Lake Hartwell head first."

The lawsuit also said that there was a tradition in the fraternity of "requiring, pressuring, encouraging and forcing" pledges to jump off bridges over Lake Hartwell near campus and swim to shore.

In addition to the $25 million in actual damages, the lawsuits seek unspecified punitive damages and ask for a jury trial.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Mark Reardon, an attorney for the Carney family, said that "when all the facts are known, the conclusion will be that" Samuel Carney "had no role in the tragic accident causing Tucker's death."

The other two fraternity members named as defendants are Thomas Carter King and Campbell T. Starr. Neither immediately responded to messages left in their campus email accounts seeking comment.

A man who answered the phone at King's mother's house in Charlotte, North Carolina, said he had no comment.

Clemson said it does not comment on pending litigation. The fraternity said it had received the lawsuits on Tuesday and was reviewing them.

The Clemson case is the latest in a string of issues that have put fraternities in the national news. Others include recent allegations that a Penn State fraternity used a private Facebook page to post photos of nude women, and a video showing fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist song.

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Associated Press writers Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C., Jack Jones in Columbia, S.C., and Randall Chase in Wilmington, Del., contributed to this report.