By BETH SHAYNE / NewsChannel 36
HICKORY, N.C.--The family of Harrison Kowiack filed suit Friday against Lenoir-Rhyne University, Theta Chi Fraternity, and the fraternity brothers they say contributed to the death of their son.
"They've decided...that no one should go to jail for what happened, but what we are raising here in the lawsuit is that there was negligence," Harrison's mother Lianne told Newschannel 36 by phone from her home in Tampa, Florida.
19-year-old Harrison Kowiak died November 18, 2008 after a game in a field not far from the small university's campus. The lawsuit says that game, called bulldogging, is a long-standing traditional among Theta Chi's. The suit says it involved requiring a pledge to fetch a rock in a pitch-dark field while active members in dark clothing repeatedly tackled the younger man.
Kowiack was a golfer at Lenoir-Rhyne and weighed about 160 pounds. Several of the older fraternity members were football players.
Kowiack, the lawsuit says, complained that he was injured, but he wasn't taken seriously until he was wheezing and unresponsive on the ground. It alleges that fraternity members brought him to the hospital, but lied about what had happened. His autopsy concluded that Kowiak died of blunt trauma to his head.
The Catawba County Sheriff's Office declined to press charges.
"This is every parent's worst nightmare--to receive a call at midnight and hear that your son has been rushed to the ER," Lianne Kowiack said. "I frankly think this was a hazing incident, and if we can raise some awareness out there then we know we've done something to educate some other college-bound students and families out there."
The lawsuit filed Friday in Durham County seeks damages in excess of $10,000 from the parties named. It accuses that the following parties were negligent: the university, the university's fraternity supervisor, the Theta Chi faculty advisor, Theta Chi and its' Lenoir-Rhyne chapter. It says that all of those entities and individuals failed to enforce hazing policies already in place.
A spokeswoman for the university said, "Lenoir-Rhyne does not comment on pending litigation."
A representative from Theta Chi did not return our phone call.
The lawsuit also names 21 young men who were allegedly a part of the "bulldogging." We have not been able to make contact with any of them.
"It may sound corny, but Harrison was just a wonderful son," Kowiack said. "It just incomprehensible that something like this could have happened."
Newschannel 36 exposed another "hazing" incident at Lenoir-Rhyne in 2006. Our I-Team confronted the school's women's soccer team over a video on YouTube that showed older players encouraging other girls to drink cups full of vodka. Several young women were punished for abuse of the university's alcohol policy, but the university never officially called it hazing.