8 Arrested in Fraternity Pledge’s Alcohol-Poisoning Death, Police Say

Adam Oakes, a 19-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University, died in February after being told to drink a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, family members say.,


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Eight people were arrested and three others indicted on Friday after an investigation into the death of Adam Oakes, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University who died in February from alcohol poisoning at a fraternity party, the authorities said.

All eight who were arrested face charges of unlawful hazing of a student, the Richmond, Va., police said in a statement. Three of them face an additional charge of buying and giving alcohol to a minor.

According to Mr. Oakes’s family, the young man’s death, which drew national attention and renewed questions about hazing in Greek organizations across the country, occurred at an off-campus party on Feb. 26 at the Delta Chi fraternity house, where he was given a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and told to drink it.

Mr. Oakes, 19, was found dead the next morning by Richmond police officers, the authorities said.

Courtney White, Mr. Oakes’s cousin, said on Saturday that while the family was feeling “a little bit of relief” because the case was moving forward, it was still painful to know that nothing, including the charges, was “going to bring him back.”

“A lot of people are saying that these boys are just boys,” Ms. White said. “But the fact is that Adam was just a boy, too, and they took full advantage of him. And had any one of them stepped up and actually acted like a man and called for help, Adam would still be here.”

The family said on Facebook that they were “grateful for some measure of justice these charges and arrests may produce, as well as the protection from hazing they may give young, impressionable college students.”

“The past 7 months have been agonizing for our family,” they wrote. “This is the first time these young men have been held accountable for their historically toxic and destructive traditions, manipulation of the VCU disciplinary systems, and for Adam’s death.”

The Richmond Police Department did not say whether those charged were students at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the university did not immediately respond to questions on Saturday. But Mr. Oakes’s family said that all of those arrested were current or former students at the university.

The police named those arrested as Benjamin J. Corado, Quinn A. Kuby, Riley K. McDaniel, Alessandro Medina-Villanueva, Jason B. Mulgrew, Christian G. Rohrbach, Colin G. Tran and Enayat W. Sheikhzad. They range in age from 19 to 22.

It was not clear on Saturday whether all eight had lawyers. None could immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

A website for Delta Chi listed Mr. Corado, Mr. Kuby, Mr. Medina-Villanueva, Mr. Mulgrew, Mr. Rohrbach and Mr. Tran as part of the V.C.U. chapter’s leadership team.

The university said in a statement that “V.C.U. continues to mourn the tragic death of Adam Oakes and is grateful to the Richmond Police Department for its investigation.”

“V.C.U. is dedicated to continuing its efforts, announced this summer, to promote a safe and welcoming fraternity and sorority life culture for all,” the university said.

V.C.U. permanently expelled Delta Chi from campus in May, after it hired a consulting firm to study its Greek culture. The firm, Dyad Strategies, announced in an August report that while the university wasn’t an outlier compared with other colleges’ Greek organizations, it still struggled to address concerns about binge drinking and hazing.

Seven of those arrested were taken into custody by the Virginia Commonwealth University Police and are being held without bond at the Richmond Justice Center. Mr. Sheikhzad was arrested by the Virginia State Police and was released on bond. The remaining three are expected to turn themselves in soon, but their names have not been released, the Richmond police said in their statement.

Fraternity organizations have been under intense scrutiny in recent years, following high-profile cases that have drawn the ire of anti-hazing activists and victims’ loved ones who say that the culture of Greek life is dangerous and shrouded in secrecy. In 2017, Timothy Piazza, a student at Penn State University, died after he became drunk, fell and was left overnight by fraternity members who knew he needed help but failed to seek it.

Chun Hsien Deng, an 18-year-old Baruch College freshman, died in 2013 after sustaining major brain trauma while taking part in a fraternity hazing ritual.

“Bullying keeps you out of a group; hazing is having to prove yourself to be a part of this group,” said Dennis Goodwin, a co-founder of Anti-Hazing Collaborative, an organization devoted to preventing hazing among young people.

While many fraternity members call one another “brothers,” Mr. Goodwin said he didn’t think students should be part of “families” that force them to “do something that could lead to death.”

Some anti-hazing activists said they are hopeful that prosecutions in cases such as Mr. Oakes’s will prove that these crimes are now taken seriously.

Rae Ann Gruver, the founder and president of the Max Gruver Foundation, has spent years trying to end hazing on college campuses. Her son, Max, died in 2017 “as a direct result of fraternity hazing,” the organization says online.

“The more and more these kids get prosecuted and indicted and actually see punishment, and that prosecutors are ready to prosecute them, that’s really going to deter these kids,” Ms. Gruver said.

Many states’ hazing laws are classified as misdemeanors, she said, which means less time in prison if convicted. If those laws change into felonies, no young adult “is going to want that on their record,” Ms. Gruver said.

In Virginia, where Mr. Oakes’s case is taking place, hazing is a misdemeanor.

“I do think fraternity headquarters are getting more on board and really having a no-tolerance policy and getting down to it, but it’s taking time,” Ms. Gruver said.

If someone hazes, she said, “it is against the law, and you should be prosecuted just like any other crime.”

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