The parents of a Hampden-Sydney College freshman found dead last year from alcohol intoxication filed a $78 million lawsuit Thursday that says the 18-year-old died after a night of excessive drinking at a rum-infused hazing event at his fraternity house.
Harrison Carter Cole, a newly initiated member of the college’s Alpha Chi Sigma chapter, was found dead in his dorm room March 25. Attorneys for Cole’s parents, William and Carol Ann Cole, filed the lawsuit in Prince Edward County Circuit Court, naming the college, his fraternity, and certain members of the fraternity as defendants.
The night before he was found dead, Cole had been at the fraternity house taking part in a Kraken rum party, where new members would watch the movie “Clash of the Titans,” the lawsuit says. Each time the word “Kraken” was used in the movie, new members like Cole were supposed to drink the 94-proof rum, the lawsuit says, adding that the word was used 15 times in just the first hour of the film.
Cole, a member of the college swim team from Culpeper County, died from acute alcohol intoxication, according to the state medical examiner’s office.
The Alpha Chi Sigma chapter at the college, a professional fraternity focusing on chemical sciences, was suspended last year amid an investigation, but an official with that fraternity’s national office would not say whether the suspension was related to the freshman’s death.
“Carter Cole’s parents understand that no lawsuit will bring their son back to them,” said a statement from John P. Fishwick Jr. a Roanoke-based attorney who is representing the Coles. “Carter’s parents are bringing this lawsuit to seek accountability for Carter’s death and with the hope that what happened to Carter will not happen to any other college student.”
In connection with Cole’s death, state police in September charged two members of the fraternity — Nicholas F. Chase, 23, of Wilmington, N.C., and James D. Ingersoll, 22, of Crozet — with one misdemeanor count each of buying alcohol for underage individuals. Authorities said the two men allegedly supplied alcohol for the movie night.
Prosecutors withdrew the charge against Ingersoll in February. Chase was convicted of the misdemeanor charge in February but is appealing his case to Prince Edward Circuit Court.
Chase’s attorney, Cary Bowen, said he couldn’t comment about what happened on the night of the party, noting that his client’s case is pending. Bowen said that his understanding is that the Alpha Chi Sigma chapter at the college outlawed hazing.
“They have a strict policy against penalizing, ridiculing or in any way minimizing boys who don’t drink,” Bowen said.
Gordon Neal, a Hampden-Sydney spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday. Officials with the fraternity could not immediately be reached for comment.
The lawsuit alleges that pledges at the fraternity were divided into two categories — “dry” pledges, who did not drink at fraternity events, and “wet” pledges like Cole, who would drink to excess.
Members of the fraternity watched as Cole and other new members consumed the rum numerous times over a short period at the March 24 party, the lawsuit alleges.
Cole, who had recently advanced from a pledge to a new member of the fraternity, vomited four times during the party, yet no emergency or medical care was provided to him either then or after fellow fraternity members took him back to his dorm room, according to the lawsuit.
Fraternity members were directed to check on Cole during the night because they knew he had been drinking excessively, but again no medical help was called for him, the lawsuit says.
On the morning after the party, Cole was pronounced dead by emergency officials who responded to his room after a 911 caller reported he was not breathing, the litigation says.
The 70-page lawsuit said toxicology results showed Cole’s blood alcohol level was more than four times the 0.08 percent limit for driving legally in Virginia.
The lawsuit accuses the college of failing to control excessive drinking and hazing at its fraternities, adding that the school’s failure helped lead to Cole’s death.
Alpha Chi Sigma’s national office either knew or should have known about “the hazing, excessive drinking, underage drinking and excessive partying” at its Hampden-Sydney chapter, the lawsuit says.
“Although HSC [Hampden-Sydney College] ostensibly had policies in place to address these issues, and HSC had undertaken to supervise and regulate the fraternities on its campus, these policies were not properly or effectively enforced,” the Coles’ lawsuit says.
“Ultimately, HSC permitted a culture on its campus which allowed reckless hazing, binge drinking, and underage consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
The suit, which seeks a total of $78 million in damages, says members of the fraternity house put Cole in danger by pressuring him to drink excessively.