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Lawsuit filed over Lenoir-Rhyne hazing death

Posted July 31, 2009

— The family of a former student at Lenoir-Rhyne University filed suit Friday against the Hickory school, a fraternity and several students, alleging the teen died last fall after being injured in a hazing incident.

Harrison Kowiak, a sophomore from Tampa, was pledging the Theta Chi fraternity when fraternity members repeatedly tackled him at night in a farm field as part of an initiation ritual last November, according to the lawsuit.

Kowiak suffered a head injury during the incident, but fraternity members forced him to walk through the field until he collapsed, the suit alleges. Some students then drove him to Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, where they told hospital staff that he was injured playing flag football, the suit alleges.

Kowiak was later airlifted to a Charlotte hospital, where he died.

Catawba County authorities decided against pursuing any criminal charges in the case after an investigation.

Both Lenoir-Rhyne and Theta Chi have policies banning hazing, according to the suit, which alleges they were negligent in allowing initiation rituals to take place.

The suit also alleges that the fraternity members, several of whom are from the Triangle, conspired to injure Kowiak in violation of well-known policies and were negligent in getting him medical attention more quickly.

"We believe Harrison's death was part of a long history of hazing at this fraternity," David Kirby, a Raleigh lawyer representing the Kowiak family, said in a statement. "There is absolutely no reason for this dangerous activity to still be occurring in this day and age, and it needs to be stopped immediately."

The family is seeking unspecified damages in the lawsuit, which was filed in Durham County because the administrator of Kowiak's estate is located there.


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  • jimmycrackcorn Jul 31, 2009

    Put a bunch of elitist jocks in a room with a weaker male and see what happens.
    I hate reading this stuff and all the people that condone it in any shape or form.
    Hazing is a way for bullys and sadists to fulfill that empty hollow place in their souls. I have never been hazed cause if someone hurts me, I make sure they hurt too

  • issymayake Jul 31, 2009


    If your life is threatened you walk away. If your pledge class/line brothers truly understand the concept, they walk with you.

  • Adelinthe Jul 31, 2009

    IMC - "NC needs stronger hazing laws for extreme situations..."

    For ANY situation; because gang mentality can easily creep in whenever a gang-type situation evolves, hazing of any type should be illegal in every state.

    If these organizations want new members to measure up in some way, have each applicant do community service of some kind. That will benefit many and will hurt none.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Jul 31, 2009

    MD - This isn't about the family wanting money; it's about someone being penalized heavily enough that they are totally scattered (disbanded) or that they remember their crime for a good long time.

    And if the school hid this or made excuses for it, they should face a harsh penalty as well.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Jul 31, 2009

    WCV - "This was a well kept secret."

    Then the school should be held accountable for this as well.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Jul 31, 2009

    These hazings need to stop, and when someone is found participating, there needs to be an exceedingly harsh penalty.

    Decades ago when I was in PA, a student at Gannon College choked to death on a raw liver that he was forced to try to eat during a hazing.

    This is part of the "boys will be boys" mentality, and it's time for it to halt.

    Praying these parents take the guilty students for everything they will ever earn.

    Enough is enough.

    God bless.


  • Professor Jul 31, 2009

    Opinions are like bellybuttons, everybody has one...................

  • Professor Jul 31, 2009

    A nice man's life lost, all because of foolishness and not really caring. I just wonder, the people who was involved in this murder, how they feel now? Are they still a part of the organization? Did they speak to the family and show respect of condolences?

  • shortcake53 Jul 31, 2009

    ??????? Exactly what are you talking about "professor"? I believe you commented back to the wrong person, as your comment to me makes no sense. Read back.

  • Professor Jul 31, 2009

    I am in a fraternity and yes I was hazed,

    You lived. Thank God for that. Now, what is the real need for hazing someong? Are there better ways?