Prosecutor: Criminal probe at standstill in Clemson death

AP News
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Posted: Aug 14, 2015 3:50 PM

PICKENS, S.C. (AP) — The criminal investigation into the death of a Clemson University fraternity pledge remains at a standstill, despite a new witness account, a prosecutor said Friday.

News media outlets reported this week that the witness's statement was contained in documents filed in a $25 million civil lawsuit. According to the reports, the witness said Tucker Hipps was forced to walk on a narrow bridge railing before falling to his death last September while pledging.

Solicitor Chrissy Adams released a statement Friday saying deputies have interviewed the witness. "Looking at this individual's statement in relation to criminal charges being filed, there are multiple issues that arise," she said.

Adams noted the witness waited a long time to come forward, didn't know what day he saw students on the bridge and describes the students "as having a good time which would indicate that there was no force or hazing involved."

She added that while the witness was unable to identify the students, he said they were wearing orange, one of the university colors. Hipps was wearing darker clothing at the time.

"Unless any other leads come into the Sheriff's Office, the criminal investigation is at a standstill," the solicitor said.

Hipps' family has filed two lawsuits against the university, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and three of its members, saying they are to blame for the death.

The lawsuits allege Hipps was hazed during a pre-dawn run. They allege fraternity members tried to cover up their role in his death by deleting text messages, phone calls and changing phone numbers.

Following the prosecutor's statement, the attorney for Hipps' family also released a statement saying they were "surprised and disappointed" by Adams.

"We could not disagree more with Ms. Adams' opinions regarding the credibility of the new witness or the witness's statements," said Jennifer Burnett.

Clemson and members of Hipps' fraternity have asked that the case be dismissed and have blamed Hipps for his own death. Clemson has suspended Sigma Phi Epsilon for five years.