Ten months after the high profile death of a 19-year-old Clemson fraternity pledge at Lake Hartwell, a witness has come forward with new details about the day Tucker Hipps died.
New court documents filed in the Hipps family’s $25 million lawsuit reveal that Tucker Hipps was forced to walk along a narrow bridge railing before he fell to his death. The new allegation is part of a request to amend their lawsuit with the new details, The Anderson Independent Mail reported.
Five months ago, Cindy and Gary Hipps, represented by the White, Davis and White Law Firm, filed two lawsuits seeking a total of $50 million in damages from Clemson, Sigma Phi Epsilon and three fraternity brothers. They allege a coverup, extortion, verbal abuse and harassment.
According to the lawsuits, Tucker Hipps was hazed during a September 2014 pre-dawn pledge run, and Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers attempted to cover up their role in his death by deleting text messages, cellphone calls and, in one instance, changing phone numbers.
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The lawsuits alleged one of the three fraternity brothers became angry at Hipps for not providing a McDonalds’ breakfast for 27 pledges during an early morning pledge run Sept. 22, 2014. It states that defendant Thomas King was involved in a “confrontation” with Hipps on the S.C. 93 bridge over the Seneca River at Lake Hartwell shortly before Hipps fell to his death.
However, the lawsuit initially included few details of how Tucker went over the bridge.
After Hipps went over the bridge railing, King shone “the flashlight on his cellphone into the dark waters below looking for” Hipps, the lawsuits said.
An autopsy – which officials have kept secret until these lawsuits – concluded he had died of “blunt force trauma” consistent with a “downward headfirst falling injury,” the lawsuits said.
A toxicology report found Hipps had not been drinking or ingesting drugs, the lawsuits said.
A statement by the family released after the lawsuits were filed called Hipps’ death a “senseless and avoidable tragedy. The culture of hazing and inappropriate conduct by social fraternities must be stopped. Universities and fraternities must make change from within to protect their own.”
Hipps’ parents said they filed the lawsuits “in the hopes that change will happen and that no other parent will feel the pain they have been forced to endure. Tucker lost his life, but we must not let it be vain.”
Clemson suspended the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity for five years, but has made little additional information available about exactly how Hipps died. Clemson apparently took action against the fraternity for allegations not connected with Hipps’ death.
After the lawsuits were filed, Clemson University and members of Hipps’ fraternity responded to the lawsuits in part by asking a judge to dismiss the case, The Anderson Independent Mail reported in June.
King, of North Carolina, along with Campbell T. Starr of Greenville and Samuel Quillen Carney of Delaware, organized the run, according to the lawsuit.
Carney’s attorneys asked a judge to dismiss the case, citing South Carolina law that does not allow parents to sue for losses of an adult child. The attorneys also say the lawsuits do not show Carney, whose father is a Delaware congressman, caused Hipps’ death, The Anderson Independent Mail reported.
In an interview with The State newspaper in April, Cindy and Gary Hipps said filing the two lawsuits is not about seeking monetary compensation for their only son’s death; it’s about finding the truth.
“If this had happened to one of Tucker’s friends, he would go to all lengths to make sure the truth were known,” Cindy Hipps said, adding Tucker had a reputation for sticking up for others.
The State staff reporter John Monk and The Anderson Independent Mail contributed to this report.