The Whitman County Prosecutor’s Office charged 15 former members of a Washington State University fraternity Wednesday in the 2019 alcohol poisoning death of a student.
The charges are related to the death of 19-year-old WSU freshman Samuel Martinez, of Bellevue, who died of acute alcohol intoxication on Nov. 12, 2019, after attending a fraternity event.
The former members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity were charged with supplying liquor to minors at the event, which was part of an initiation process, said Prosecutor Denis P. Tracy. Furnishing liquor to minors is a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“While the charges may lead to some level of accountability, this is not justice. It does not bring us closure.” Martinez’s family said in a statement Wednesday.
On the night before Martinez died, he consumed the bulk of a half-gallon of rum and became unconscious. No one called for medics until 8:30 the next morning. The Whitman County coroner ruled the death accidental.
The family said it’s disappointed that none of the men will be charged with hazing, as the statute of limitations for the charge has expired. Hazing, they said, should be considered a felony in Washington.
Martinez’s mother, Jolayne Houtz, wrote in a Seattle Times op-ed that universities should make the disciplinary history of fraternities public and exercise more oversight. Houtz is a former Seattle Times reporter.
“What happened the night Sam died was not an isolated incident,” the family’s statement said, pointing to two other alcohol deaths at fraternities in Virginia and Ohio.
“Just like Sam, they were abandoned by their so-called fraternity ‘brothers’ to die alone,” the family said. They called the potential sentence for the men “insulting.”
In 2020, Martinez’s parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against WSU and the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, which he was pledging to join.
A trial is scheduled for August, according to Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe, who is representing the family. Martinez’s parents seek unspecified compensation for economic and noneconomic damages, including wrongful death, “pre-death pain and suffering,” fear of impending death and lost earning capacity.
The fraternity lost its recognition for six years and, as part of a suspension agreement, admitted to violating the university’s standards of conduct with hazing, reckless endangerment and providing alcohol to minors.
In February, the Pullman Police Department recommended hazing charges for two students, including a frat member who acted as a “big brother” to Martinez. Police also recommended misdemeanor charges for seven fraternity members involved with the heavy drinking that led to Martinez’s death and charges for furnishing alcohol for five fraternity members.
Pullman police Officer Jake Opgenorth said investigators didn’t think there was enough evidence for a prosecutor to prove manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.