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A University of Miami fraternity plied a young pledge with alcohol and forced him to swim across an on-campus pond during a hurricane warning in a hazing incident that led to his death, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The suit was brought by William Meredith of Indiana, father of Chad Meredith, against Kappa Sigma headquarters in Virginia, Miami chapter president Travis Montgomery and fraternity brothers Timothy Williamson and David May. Chad, an 18-year-old freshman at UM, drowned Nov. 4, 2001, while attempting to cross the pond known as Lake Osceola. Police said he had been drinking, but initially said the incident was not caused by hazing. David Bianchi, a partner with the Miami law firm Stewart Tilghman Fox & Bianchi, said he filed the lawsuit after conducting his own investigation and discovering that hazing had indeed occurred. He said the University of Miami may be added to the lawsuit later if further investigation shows it was also liable. “The reason why we took our time was that we wanted to do a full investigation,” said Bianchi. “The more we learned, the more convinced we were that this should never have happened, that the leaders of the fraternity did not do what they were supposed to do and keep him safe. “They were supposed to make sure he wasn’t drunk. They took this young man under their wing.” Bianchi is suing the fraternity on four counts: negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty to aid and/or rescue, and default on obligations. The suit seeks unspecified damages. Sarah Artecona, a university spokeswoman, said hazing is strictly forbidden and a written policy against it is provided to every fraternity and sorority. She said federal confidentiality laws preclude her from saying whether the students had been or would be disciplined. Mic Wilson, executive director of Kappa Sigma in Virginia, declined to discuss the suit. He said, “Our chapter is devastated about this young man’s loss. They were friends with him.” Contacted at the fraternity and told about the lawsuit, Williamson said, “This is so ridiculous I don’t even want to respond.” Montgomery and May were not available. According to the complaint, Meredith planned to study law at UM and was “on the way to obtaining recognition on the Dean’s List” when he pledged Kappa Sigma. According to the fraternity’s Web site, it is the sixth-largest fraternity in the country, with 200 chapters and 200,000 members. Past members include Robert Redford, Robert Dole and Ted Turner. The Web site also notes that the fraternity forbids hazing. In fact, Kappa Sigma was required to contractually agree with UM to refrain from hazing in order to remain on campus. Still, hazing was a common practice at the local Epsilon Beta chapter of Kappa Sigma, the lawsuit charges. It took place at an off-campus house called the “Bongalow,” as well as at the official fraternity house, the lawsuit states. One typical hazing ritual required pledges to chug two beers through what is known as a “beer bong” in less than 10 seconds. If pledges failed to complete this task they would be thrown into a shower, according to the lawsuit. On the evening of Nov. 4, a Sunday, Meredith attended a free concert at UM. Afterward, he phoned his parents and girlfriend and told them he planned to stop by the fraternity house and go to bed early. According to the lawsuit, he told them he was still exhausted from secret pledge events he was required to participate in Friday night and Saturday morning. But he wasn’t allowed to turn in early. Over the next several hours, Montgomery, May and Williamson “plied Chad with alcohol in amounts sufficient to raise his blood alcohol level to .15, nearly two times the legal limit.” They then “coerced and forced” the pledge to swim across Lake Osceola — despite Meredith’s “well-known fear” of swimming and even though the approaching Hurricane Michelle made the waters rough. As Meredith crossed the pond, he realized he would be unable to complete the swim and screamed for help. His three fraternity brothers heard him but failed to act, the suit claims. Meredith drowned and police divers recovered his body.

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