Fifteen WSU fraternity members charged following death of pledge in 2019

Fifteen WSU fraternity members charged following death of pledge in 2019
Courtesy photo
Sam Martinez

A year and a half ago, Sam Martinez, a pledge at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Washington State University, was told to finish a half-gallon of rum with another pledge. Within hours, Martinez lost consciousness, and the next morning, he was found dead from alcohol poisoning.

Now, Whitman County prosecutors are charging 15 fraternity members involved that night with furnishing liquor to minors, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

But despite existing evidence of hazing, the fraternity members won't be charged with hazing because the Pullman Police Department allowed the statute of limitations for that charge to expire before handing evidence to prosecutors. Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins has previously told KREM that the investigation took so long because of the large number of witness interviews and challenges accessing cellphone records.

Martinez's family says in a statement that they are "deeply disappointed" no one will face a hazing charge.

"While the charges may lead to some level of accountability, it is not justice," the family says. "It does not bring us closure."

Washington's anti-hazing law defines it as "any method of initiation into a student organization or living group" that "causes, or is likely to cause, bodily danger or physical harm, or serious mental emotional harm" to a student.

The family last year filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university and the fraternity, with a trial date set for March 2022 in King County Superior Court.

The week before Martinez's death, Alpha Tau Omega put pledges like Martinez, 19, in a room where they were handcuffed to a sorority pledge, then told that the key to the handcuffs was at the bottom of a fifth of hard alcohol and that they had to finish the entire bottle before they would be released, according to the lawsuit.

The night of Martinez's death, Nov. 11, 2019, Martinez and other pledges were told to finish bottles of hard alcohol as fraternity brothers cheered them on, court records state. Martinez and one other pledge were supposed to finish a half-gallon of rum. By 10:30 pm, Martinez lost consciousness and was taken to a bathroom where frat members tried to force him to throw up. They then brought him downstairs at 11:30 pm and laid him on his side, the lawsuit states.

The next morning, according to the lawsuit, other pledges noticed Martinez turning blue and told Alpha Tau Omega members but it wasn't until half an hour later that paramedics were called — too late to save Martinez's life.

His family notes that WSU had admonished Alpha Tau Omega for hazing years earlier.

"If our family had known the truth about Alpha Tau Omega's track record at WSU, we believe Sam would still be alive today," they say in the statement. ♦