A college fraternity can be a dangerous place for a pledge.

When Will Fraternities Learn to Stop Killing their Pledges with Alcohol?

In Louisiana this fall, yet another young college student lost his life after being hazed by the fraternity he was pledging. This time the victim was 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver, a freshman at Louisiana State University. Once again, a family that sent a bright, promising loved one off to college had to suffer one of the harshest losses life can hand out—the loss of one’s child.

Gruver was a pledge at Phi Delta Theta fraternity and was part of a group of 20 or so pledges who were told to answer questions about the fraternity while lined up facing a wall with a strobe light flashing and loud music playing. If they flubbed the answer, they were told to take a “pull” from a bottle of alcohol.

A young man downs hard liquor.

Gruver kept missing the questions and so was ordered to drink from the bottle. He eventually passed out on the couch around midnight. In the morning, two students bundled him into a car and took him to the hospital where he was declared dead. Tests showed that his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .496 percent, more than six times the legal limit for driving. Some people have died with a BAC of .3 to .4 percent.

After Mr. Gruver’s death, the fraternity was closed down and ten students were charged with hazing. One was charged with negligent homidice.

No student should ever die during a hazing or at a fraternity party. Unfortunately, it happens with regularity.

Penn State Death

Earlier in 2017, 18 students at a fraternity in Pennsylvania were charged with crimes after a pledge died after being forced to drink wine, beer and vodka in quick succession. After pledge Tim Piazza, age 19, injured himself in a fall and became unconscious, the other students neglected to help him till morning and then tried to delete any evidence of their wrongdoing. He died a day later.

List of Other Students Who Have Lost their Lives

It’s far too easy to find lists of students who have died during fraternity parties or hazings. Here’s a sampling from some of the lists compiled by parents or teachers trying to end the carnage.

  • Ryan Abele, 18, died in a fall after being told to clean the basement of the fraternity. He was highly intoxicated.
  • Charlie Terreni, Jr. died of alcohol poisoning at a St. Patrick’s Day party given at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
  • Dalton Debrick, 18, a freshman at Texas Tech University, died of alcohol poisoning while pledging a fraternity.
  • Michael Anthony Walker, 20, was lost in April 2016 after drinking heavily at a fraternity party at Ferrum College.
  • Nicholas Holt, 18, died after a night of drinking at a fraternity party at an off-campus venue.
  • Kellie Fullilove, 19, was at drinking and using cocaine at a fraternity party. She had a BAC of .5 when she died.
  • Nolan Michael Burch, 18, was found unresponsive in his fraternity house and subsequently died. Others at the fraternity party had challenged Nolan to drink a large quantity of alcohol.
  • Vaibhev Loomba, 20, died from alcohol poisoning after a fraternity party at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Caitlyn Kovacs, 19, was taken to the hospital from a small party at a fraternity at Rutgers University. After she died, the medical examiner stated that the cause was alcohol poisoning.

One professor, Hank Nuwer at Franklin College, also a member of HazingPrevention.org, has documented 33 hazing deaths at fraternities. The majority of these deaths have involved alcohol. You can find these deaths mapped here.

Students Must Be Thoroughly Prepared by Parents

Mom hugs her son graduating from high school or college.

In the last few decades, students have begun dying in greater numbers from alcohol-related injuries or poisoning during fraternity events. Parents would be very wise to protect their children for the increased freedom of college, and the culture of alcohol and drug use the youth will face—perhaps for the first time.

Parents might be accustomed to trusting their child not to drink but in a fraternity filled with drinking, partying or hazing, it’s a totally different level of challenge for their child. To save that young person’s life, the threat of alcohol overindulgence must be made clear before he ever leaves for college. As shown by these tragic examples, it’s very possible that no one will look out for him (or her) and only his own insistence on protecting his own survival will see him through.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.