Former WSU fraternity convicted of alcohol-related death



Tyler Tjomsland


Three former members of a Washington State University fraternity were sentenced to eight months supervised probation in connection with the death of a 19-year-old freshman in November 2019.

Maxwell Rovegno, Cameron Thomas and Nolan Valcik were sentenced after pleading guilty to providing alcohol to a minor on the night of Samuel Martinez’s death, The Spokesman-Review reported.

Fifteen former members of the fraternity were initially charged in connection with Martinez’s death. The other members indicted in the case have been granted extensions until 2022, the newspaper reported.

The three men sentenced to probation were not charged with providing alcohol to Martinez, the Associated Press reported. They were also each sentenced to one day in prison, fined $ 1,000 and $ 500 suspended, and are required to complete the alcohol and drug education school, KING 5 reported.

Martinez died after consuming alcohol during an initiation event at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity of the WSU, KREM reported. Pullman police found Martinez unconscious and not breathing at the fellowship at 8:35 a.m. on November 12, and medics later determined he was dead.

Whitman County Coroner Annie Pillers ruled that Martinez died of “acute alcohol poisoning” or alcohol poisoning, KREM reported. His death was determined to be accidental, and Pillers discovered that Martinez had died at 4.30am, hours before he was found by other fraternity members.

A report released by the Pullman Police Department in January 2021 found Martinez had a blood alcohol level of 0.372 at the time of his death. In Washington, a person is legally considered to be intoxicated when their blood alcohol level is 0.08 or higher, McClatchy News reported in June.

According to the report, the fraternity held its annual “big / little night” at an off-campus house rented by several members on the night of Martinez’s death, McClatchy News reported. At these events, first year members are assigned a “big brother” within the fellowship, and the chapter celebrates couples. These events often involve a lot of alcohol.

The older brother assigned to Martinez told officers that he, Martinez and Martinez’s “twin brother” shared a half-gallon of rum that night, according to the report. The “twin,” another freshman paired with the same upper class student, told officers the bottle was almost finished after 30 minutes.

The next morning of the event, members found Martinez lying on the ground and attempted CPR but was unsuccessful, according to the report.

Throughout the night, Martinez’s older brother and several other fellowship members noticed that Martinez was “very drunk”. At around 11:30 p.m., Martinez’s older brother and a group of freshmen were seen taking Martinez down to the room where he was later found dead, The Spokesman-Review reported.

The 15 members of the fraternity were charged with providing alcohol to a minor, a serious offense. The crime is punishable by one year in prison and a fine of $ 5,000, McClatchy News reported.

Martinez’s family released a statement earlier this year criticize the accusations who were filed in connection with Martinez’s death, saying they were “deeply disappointed” that no one would be charged with hazing because the police department “allowed the statute of limitations for this charge to expire”, even if there was “substantial evidence of hazing that the hazing charges would have supported.”

The statement also criticized the fact that similar incidents occurred during induction events at other universities in the country.

“A boy dies. His family and friends are broken. Promises of reform are made and broken. We are saying enough, ”the statement read. “It is time for universities, fraternities and policy makers to adopt meaningful reforms that end this toxic culture. “

Washington State University and the national leadership of Alpha Tau Omega did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.

Although Martinez died of alcohol poisoning, Pullman Police Department officer Jake Opgenorth said investigators did not believe there was enough evidence for a prosecutor to prove the manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt, reported The Spokesman-Review.

In an editorial for the Seattle Times published on July 31, 2020, Martinez’s mother, Jolayne Houtz, criticized the university and the fraternity system for a lack of accountability, saying that “when an engagement dies, the transfer of blame starts in a few hours. “

“Fraternities and universities have an unhealthy symbiotic relationship that leads universities to look the other way despite a pervasive pattern of fraternal misconduct,” Houtz wrote.

Martinez’s family filed a wrongful death complaint against the university on July 31, 2020, alleging the university should have known that the initiation events would be dangerous and involve hazing. The lawsuit also criticized the fellowship members for planning and performing numerous hazing rituals, despite the fact that the fellowship also had policies in place prohibiting hazing.

“The college fraternity system is long overdue for the kind of judgment that many other American institutions now face for permitting and perpetuating violence, injustice and destructive behavior,” Houtz wrote. “Fraternities – and the universities and businesses that benefit from it – must face the same scrutiny and be held accountable for failing to protect the young people in their care. “

The university suspended the fraternity until 2026, according to the Associated Press.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that the defendants pleaded guilty to providing alcohol to a minor, not serving alcohol to Martinez.

This story was originally published September 28, 2021 6:55 pm.

Vandana Ravikumar is a McClatchy Real-Time reporter. She grew up in northern Nevada and studied journalism and political science at Arizona State University. Previously, she reported for USA Today, The Dallas Morning News and Arizona PBS.


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