Local News

New Twist to Fraternity Drowning

Posted April 17, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— A woman who claims to be an eye-witness has come forward with a story that conflicts with what fraternity members say occurred at Raleigh's Lake Johnson Sunday night when one of their new members drowned.

The woman, fearing retribution, has asked not to be identified. But she told police she heard someone screaming "I can't swim! I can't swim!" She said that person was pulled to safety by companions.

Meanwhile, new Tau Kappa Epsilon member Steven Velazquez of Goldsboro may also have been struggling in the lake's cold waters. Family and friends say he did not know how to swim. TKE brothers did not discover him missing until several cars returned to the fraternity house from the lake.

The brothers returned to the lake and, not finding Velazquez, called police. Twelve hours later his body was recovered in 10 feet of water near the docks.

Fraternity brothers have told police they had a coat-and-tie initiation ceremony elsewhere earlier in the evening. They have described the Lake Johnson visit as recreation, not something done in conjunction with the evening's initiation.

The woman, however, says the brothers made at least two trips to the lake and tossed at least four people into the cold water. One was the student who was pulled out after yelling.

Raleigh police have been conducting interviews, and expect to complete their investigation today. After interviewing the witness they still believe that a lack of criminal intent would preclude filing criminal charges.

Because the fraternity chapter is affiliated with N.C. State University, Chancellor Larry Monteith expressed his condolences to the family and discussed the loss TKE has sustained.

Drew Smith, assistant director of student development, released an account of the evening's events that details the initiation and subsequent dinner. Smith acknowledged that recollections become cloudy once the brothers piled into cars and drove to the lake, and that no one knows what happened to Velazquez. Two members, however, say they saw him on the lake's dock, dripping wet after having been in the water.

The eye-witness said she watched the goings-on from a car in the lake's parking lot off Avent Ferry Road. When she heard the fraternity brothers' account on a TV news report, she felt it possible the chapter members were covering up what occurred. That led her to phone police.

Velazquez' funeral is set for Friday in Goldsboro. A memorial service is planned on the N.C.State campus next week.

Lake Johnson is relatively close to the campus. It is used for drinking water and non-motorized boating. Swimming is not permitted.