It has been over eight years since the Tucker Hipps tragedy shocked South Carolina – and sparked a new, anti-hazing crusade on college campuses across the country. And while the Hipps’ headlines have faded over the years, there is a renewed push to find out exactly what happened to him during the early morning hours of September 22, 2014.
In fact, two former employees of this news outlet are reportedly looking into the circumstances surrounding Hipps’ untimely death … efforts I wholeheartedly support.
The more eyes on this case, the better … hopefully someone can shake loose the truth.
To recap: Hipps, a 19-year-old Clemson University student, perished as a result of an “unsupported fall” from the Highway 93 bridge – which spans the Seneca River just west of Clemson, S.C. His death occurred during a so-called “fitness event” organized by the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, but sources familiar with the situation have consistently told this news outlet he died as a result of a “hazing ritual gone wrong.”
Whatever happened, Hipps’ body was found floating in Lake Hartwell at 3:30 p.m. EDT on September 22 – with an autopsy report revealing the freshman died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
Hipps – the president of his pledge class – was a political science major. He dreamt of attending law school.
This news outlet covered the Hipps tragedy extensively at the time. In fact, on the day after Hipps’ death I was the first reporter to suggest fraternity hazing may have played a role in what happened to him.
Hipps was with three fraternity brothers and twenty-seven other “SigEp” pledges at the time of his death. Hipps’ fraternity “brothers” claimed he fell behind during an early morning run – but no one from the fraternity called campus police until 1:45 p.m. EDT, more than seven hours after Hipps went missing. Even then, a missing persons report was not filed by Hipps’ “brothers.”
In fact, one fraternity member was accused of texting Hipps’ girlfriend – who was understandably concerned as to his whereabouts – claiming Hipps had been seen in the school’s library on the morning of his death.
(Click to view)
(Via: Hipps Family)
This same fraternity member later texted his “brothers” to inform them of this fabrication, noting the deception would help them “buy some time,” according to a lawsuit filed by Hipps’ parents – Gary Hipps and Cindy Hipps.
Hipps’ parents sued Clemson, Sigma Phi Epsilon and three of Hipps’ fraternity brothers –Thomas Carter King, Campbell T. Starr and Samuel Quillen Carney. Carney – who was accused of organizing the alleged hazing event – is the son of John Carney, a former three-term Democratic congressman from Delaware who was elected governor of the state in 2016 and reelected in 2020.
According to one witness, three members of Sigma Phi Epsilon “forced Tucker to get onto the narrow railing along the bridge and walk some distance of the bridge on top of the railing.”
“Tucker slipped from the railing and caught the railing under his arms …. tried to climb back onto the bridge unassisted … lost his grip on the bridge and fell headfirst into the water below, striking his head on the rocks in the shallow water,” the witness’ account continued.
The witness further alleged that Hipps’ “brothers” attempted to locate him in the waters below using a light from a cell phone – but that no attempt was made to rescue him.”
Why would Hipps have been forced to walk the concrete railing of the bridge?
One witness quoted in the lawsuit suggested Hipps’ fraternity brothers were “pissed off” because the pledge had not bought him and other members their breakfasts – specifically, thirty McDonald’s biscuits, thirty hash browns and two gallons of chocolate milk. The ensuing confrontation is said to have ended with Hipps’ “being dangled by his ankles off the bridge” and being “dropped by accident.”
The fallout from Hipps’ death was seismic. Clemson University unceremoniously fired its vice president of student affairs in December 2014 – shortly after Gary Hipps gave an interview to a local television station decrying Clemson’s fraternity system as “broken” and claiming the truth about his son’s death had yet to come out. Meanwhile, SigEp suspended all campus activity at the start of 2015 after being hit with a five-year suspension for unrelated hazing allegations.
Sigma Phi Epsilon has yet to reestablish a chapter at Clemson. Should it seek to do so, it would be required to consult with Hipps’ parents per the terms of a 2017 settlement stemming from the lawsuit. That settlement also established a scholarship at Clemson in Hipps’ name, dedicated a pew in the campus chapel to him and paid his parents $250,000.
While the legal action is over, Cindy Hipps is still advocating on behalf of campus reform.
“College is a great experience,” she recently told a group at Elon University. “I remember my college days, we had a great time. But we never left someone, and we certainly never lost someone.”
According to a news release published in Campus Safety magazine, the REACH Act “would require hazing incidents to be reported as part of a college’s annual crime statistics and establish a comprehensive hazing prevention education program.”
Hipps’ death has already inspired the passage of state legislation. Six years ago, state lawmakers passed a transparency act in Hipps’ name requiring state-supported colleges and universities to maintain records of disciplinary actions connected to “fraternity and sorority organizations formally affiliated with the institution.” These records must include findings related to alleged violations involving alcohol, drugs, sexual assaults, physical assaults and hazing.
“I don’t want to have to tell this story,” Hipps told Elon students earlier this month. “I would like for it to go away and so I don’t have to tell Tucker’s story and so I don’t have to dedicate my life to it, because it’s a senseless way to die.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has many hats – including that St. Louis Cardinals’ lid (with matching Stan Musial jersey) pictured above.
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