Local News

Lawsuit filed over Lenoir-Rhyne hazing death

Posted July 31, 2009 12:31 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2009 2:00 p.m. EDT

— 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.