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Archive for Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Parents file lawsuit against fraternity over son’s death from alcohol poisoning

SAE fraternity and 10 members named in suit

Friends and family gather outside Sigma Alpha Epsilon to remember Jason Wren, 19, who died Sunday, March 8.

Friends and family gather outside Sigma Alpha Epsilon to remember Jason Wren, 19, who died Sunday, March 8.

January 12, 2010

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Parents file lawsuit against fraternity over son's death from alcohol poisoning

The parents of a Kansas University student who died inside his fraternity house last spring have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and 10 of its members. Enlarge video

This photo, taken inside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, was submitted as part of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Jason Wren, who died from alcohol poisoning in March 2009.

This photo, taken inside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, was submitted as part of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Jason Wren, who died from alcohol poisoning in March 2009.

This photo, taken inside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, was submitted as part of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Jason Wren, who died from alcohol poisoning in March 2009.

This photo, taken inside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, was submitted as part of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Jason Wren, who died from alcohol poisoning in March 2009.

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The parents of a Kansas University student who died inside his fraternity house last spring have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and 10 of its members.

Jason Wren was found dead March 8 at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, 1301 West Campus Road, after a night of heavy drinking.

His parents claim:

• Whiskey, vodka, beer and “beer pong” games were made available to their 19-year-old son and others at the house who were younger than 21.

• SAE and its members did nothing to “deter, prevent or prohibit” underage drinking.

“Jason Wren and other underage SAE pledges were challenged to ‘man up’ games or ‘man challenges’ in which they were required to quickly drink large quantities of alcohol. The loser of the challenge was the first person who quit drinking or vomited,” the recently filed lawsuit claims.

Fraternity members are accused in the lawsuit of failing to seek medical help for the victim, despite “obvious intoxication and massive head injury.”

According to an autopsy, his blood alcohol concentration was .362 percent at the time of his death — more than four times the state’s legal limit for operating a motor vehicle, .08 percent. The coroner ruled that Wren died from alcohol poisoning.

Emergency workers were called about Wren’s unresponsiveness the next afternoon, when they found him dead in his bunk at the fraternity, where he had lived for fewer than two weeks.

Jay and Mary Wren are seeking more than $75,000 in damages on four separate counts, including breach of contract and multiple counts of negligence.

“It is not about the money, at all,” said Stephen Gorny, a Leawood attorney representing the couple in the lawsuit. “They asked the house to go dry, asked for additional steps to be taken, and nothing’s happened. So, hopefully this will make (the fraternity) take note and change some of what goes on in there.”

Brandon Weghorst, spokesman for SAE’s national headquarters, declined comment when contacted Tuesday.

The Wrens say they intend to give an unspecified portion of any award to KU, to help educate students about hazing and alcohol consumption. No court date has been scheduled in the case.

Comments

Boston_Corbett 4 years, 11 months ago

That "unspecified" portion would be the award amount, less probably around 40% for Mr. Gorny, less what the family might want to hold on to, assuming this case is on a contingency basis and goes to trial.

Danimal 4 years, 11 months ago

Hmmm, it will be interesting to see if any of this sticks.

Paula Kissinger 4 years, 11 months ago

My sympathies to the family but they just did not do their homework before they allowed their son to move into "Animal House" or so it has been called for the past 30 years I have been here. This is not the first time something regarding alcohol has been an issue with the SAE's here. If these people raise a big enough stink, perhaps, it could be the last. I wish them luck in their endeavors.

amrose42683 4 years, 11 months ago

It's about time someone tried to stand up to the "high and mighty" fraternities. One would hope that only something good comes out of this.

However, it is unfortunate that no matter how much money is given to KU to educate students on hazing and alcohol consumption, drinking is a part of college. By the time they attend college, kids are very well aware of the dangers of drinking and drugs ... hasn't stopped them yet.

jonas_opines 4 years, 11 months ago

He was kicked out of the dorms for drinking and his parents let him move into a Frat house. Are they going to sue themselves too, or have they decided that they've already suffered enough?

He was clearly a party addict if not an alcoholic, and as his parents they should have put him in treatment, not in the belly of the beast, so to speak.

ashmole 4 years, 11 months ago

The guys at SAE were having keg parties on their front lawn only a month after Jason Wren's death. A lawsuit is probably the only way to teach them a lesson.

sad_lawrencian 4 years, 11 months ago

Whatever happened to people taking responsibility for their own actions? The kid was over 18. He was an adult. Therefore the fraternity is not responsible.

diplomacy205 4 years, 11 months ago

It is interesting that jonas_opine seems to know the details of Jesse's experience with the dorms. I don't know anything about the case, but when I lived in the dorms during the stone age, we were told to make certain that no one under 18 drank any of the beer we served. More than once I refused to serve 17 year olds.

If any organization holds an event, it is responsible to prevent underage drinking. I wonder what criminal charges could be filed in this case.

jonas_opines 4 years, 11 months ago

I've just read previous articles. Unless I'm mistaking the deceased individual with another, but I don't think I am.

somebodynew 4 years, 11 months ago

@beo and a few others - I am not certain, but if I remember this story correctly, he was kicked out of the dorm, BUT the school did not relay all of the facts to the parents. In fact, it seemed really minor reasons for him being kicked out. So, maybe the parents did not know the extent of the problem???

It is amazing how much stuff you can keep from parents if you really want and try to.

TriSigmaKS 4 years, 11 months ago

Fraternities are 'SUPPOSED' to be held to higher standards. This one seems as if they have been sliding under the radar for years and breaking not only NIC (www.nicindy.org) policies, FIPG guidelines and their own national HQ policies. You might want to check out a book called Courtney's Legacy to get some parent perspective. It's truly unfortunate that a fraternity such as this can damage an entire system, but that's the stigma of being Greek. It's situations such as these that will never end the taunting and negative stereotypes that Greek organizations have.

mom_of_three 4 years, 11 months ago

No, the parents were not told why he was kicked out of the dorms, but the parent asked the kid, who flat out lied about why he was kicked out. And in a subsequent article, the dad mentioned the kid's partying ways in high school, or knew that Jason drank, so they knew about his history. I mean, in the end, the frat served alchol to a minor who later died from alcohol poisoning. not sure how they can get out of that.

BlackVelvet 4 years, 11 months ago

He was kicked out of the dorm for (more than one) alcohol violations. His parents knew he had a drinking problem. They put him into a Fraternity house. What fraternity at what University doesn't party????? (i.e. drink?) KU didn't call mom and dad because he was over 18 and by federal law, they supposedly could not tell the parents w/o his permission, unless it was a life/death situation.

CheneyHawk 4 years, 11 months ago

Pull the dorms and the university into the suit as well. They had knowledge of the problem before this happened.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 4 years, 11 months ago

Hmm... "adult" at 18... not-quite-adult 'til 21... must be the adulteration phase.

headdoctor 4 years, 11 months ago

tangential_reasoners_anonymous (Anonymous) says… Hmm… “adult” at 18… not-quite-adult 'til 21…


Since when? The age of majority can vary from state to state but for many it is 18. A few are 19 and some are graduation from high school or 18 which ever is later. The whole 21 thing pertains to a variety of different regulations but does not indicate adulthood.

valgrlku 4 years, 11 months ago

Kansas has an anti-hazing statute that perhaps seems appropriate here: Statute 21-3434 Chapter 21.--CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS Article 34.--CRIMES AGAINST PERSONS

21-3434. Promoting or permitting hazing. (a) No social or fraternal organization shall promote or permit hazing.

(b) Hazing is intentionally, coercing, demanding or encouraging another person to perform as a condition of membership in a social or fraternal organization, any act which could reasonably be expected to result in great bodily harm, disfigurement or death or which is done in a manner whereby great bodily harm, disfigurement or death could be inflicted.

(c) Promoting or permitting hazing is a class B nonperson misdemeanor.

(d) This section shall be part of and supplemental to the Kansas criminal code.

pace 4 years, 11 months ago

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ralphralph 4 years, 11 months ago

Whatever ... the guy drank himself to death. Where's the allegation of the gun to his head? No, I didn't think so. Teach your children to "man up" and rise above all this Frat-boy crap, but don't sue somebody else because you failed to do so.

Josh1122 4 years, 11 months ago

Maybe you all should put some thought into your responses before saying anything.

First and foremost, wasn't it concluded in the investigation that Jason went to a "Mexican Restaurant" and used a FAKE ID to purchase multiple margaritas, and then also purchased using HIS FAKE ID beer and liquor from a local store. THEN he ended up at the fraternity house- He was well drunk before the fraternity house- so how can they be held liable when they DID NOT serve him but other establishments did???? Hmm...also maybe before the parents sue they should look at their parenting skills- wasn't it brought to light that the father took his soon to a local 14th street bar a few weeks before his death??? His dad must've known of his fake id and failed to act lawfully and take it from him- the father has blame on his own hands.

To everyone who wants to blame the fraternity, please remember there was an investigation and neither KU, nor the Interfraternity Council, nor law enforcement found any reason to press charges, that is because no event had been occuring the night of the incident and nothing was found to be against policies? If there had been something something would have happened to the fraternity.

Maybe someone should take a look at the parents and take their other children away so that they can be raised to know how to act when at college? Just a thought

leedavid 4 years, 11 months ago

Who here does not know it is illegal to allow minors to drink?

What is the hard part? The faternity broke the law, someone died, now there are consequences for that. They are lucky they did not get kicked off KU.

kenos 4 years, 11 months ago

I see a reference here to "Animal House" but no one is pointing a finger at Hollywood and the culture that institution has helped create.

2piecespicy 4 years, 11 months ago

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Stuart Evans 4 years, 11 months ago

death by alcohol is extremely common in this society. why are we driving people to drink?

http://www.saferchoice.org/

verity 4 years, 11 months ago

There is all sorts of opinionating going on here and people who are sure they know what other people should do, but I think the operative words are, “They asked the house to go dry, asked for additional steps to be taken, and nothing’s happened. So, hopefully this will make (the fraternity) take note and change some of what goes on in there.”

I would imagine that the Wrens have punished themselves for what happened---they did lose a child and for the rest of their lives it will be "If only I had---." They are now trying to make something positive out of it and keep the same thing from happening to others.

I'm sure some of you were never young, but for those of us who were, being foolish is an integral part of it.

whatupdown 4 years, 11 months ago

I, my parents and brother all went to KU but, my son will go to Sterling or some other "tighter" school. At KU it seems the only thing falling faster than drunks and quality of education is the girls pants!

gphawk89 4 years, 11 months ago

All kinds of alcohol was made available to me during my years at KU. No one in my hall did anything to discourage me from drinking. Yet I didn't drink myself to death. Nor did any of the other 49 guys I lived with. Nor did any of the residents of the other scholarship halls that I can recall. Personal responsibility, pure and simple.

K_Verses_The_World 4 years, 11 months ago

"Come," each one cries, "let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better."

Isaiah 56:12

Hektor 4 years, 11 months ago

Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny, P.C., the parents' attorneys in this matter, are well known plaintiff's lawyers.

They were involved in the Hurricane Katrina shenanigans with Dickie Scruggs.

whatupdown 4 years, 11 months ago

Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.

Isaiah 56:11

Sean Livingstone 4 years, 11 months ago

Kids need to grow up, and us as parents need to teach them if not punish them appropriately. Students have to realize that if they're not responsible for themselves, they have to be treated like kids, and that reaching 21 doesn't mean you actually become an adult. You remain a kid and only become an adult when you become a responsible person. Some become adult way before 21, but sadly some never grow up.

boothillbilly 4 years, 11 months ago

My sincerest sympathies to the Wren family.

Now that the parents are suing a frat for providing the freedom that allowed their son to make poor decisions.

If a freshman got kicked out of a dorm for alcohol, it was not for having an empty beer can and shot glass. It was for repeated violations, and being an idiot. Yet, the parents then put him into a fraternity.

I am not, or ever have been, a member of a frat (Greeks are Geeks). Yet, it is a commonly held cultural perception that fraternities drink a lot. It seems like Wren's parents moved him out of the fry pan and into the fire. But is it the fire's fault for being a fire? No, it is just the way it is.

Jason Wren, RIP, was placed in a situation he was not equipped to handle, and unfortunately, paid the ultimate price for his immaturity and poor decisions regarding drinking. The parents, too, enabled Jason by throwing him to the wolves, rather than seeking to get their son some counseling, help, or a private apartment, where he might be insulated from some of the temptations of excessive drinking.

The Wrens, therefore, placed an immature young man in a situation beyond his depth. When I was rather immature person at the age of 19 and put around alcohol, i viewed "manning up," as a challenge to prove mysef, which resulted in drinking idiotic amounts of liquor that I would never undertake as an adult.

A mature adult, when being told to "man up," has the opportunity to walk away, as I have many times after being told to "Man Up" as an adult.

The fact that Wren caved to such pressure is evidence more of a young man being incredibly unsure of who he is, as opposed to knowing who he is and being able to resist such pressures.

This lawsuit seems groundless, and it seems that the parents are still in the "anger" or "bargaining" phase of grief, not in acceptance. I sincerely hope the Wrens find the peace that that they seek.

Yet scapegoating and frivolous lawsuits will not make the process any easier.

Jimo 4 years, 11 months ago

So this messed up, severe alcoholic is a member of this fraternity for what, 10 minutes, and it is the fraternity fault that this family did such a pathetic job raising their child? This is exactly the type of frivolous lawsuit that brings our legal system into disrepute.

"They asked the house to go dry, asked for additional steps to be taken, and nothing’s happened." Translation: the fraternity chose to retain their own legal rights including the right to direct their own lives themselves and so are being sued for failure to adopt a long discredited "prohibitionist" set of policies.

Jay Wren is a dangerous man who will get many young people killed if he's allowed to bully his way into shedding his personal failures onto others.

seriouscat 4 years, 11 months ago

Whether or not the kid had a drinking problem is irrelevant! How good a job his parents did is irrelevant!

If someone is dying in front of you and you can do something to prevent their death and yet you do nothing, you are partially responsible!

His parents weren't there, Jason Wren, for all intents and purposes, wasn't 'there'. Someone made the choice to dump this kid who had had way too much to drink alone in a room and go back to partying, and that person, and the others complicit in that decision, should be held responsible for such a huge error in judgment.

Hektor 4 years, 11 months ago

Seriouscat

"If someone is dying in front of you and you can do something to prevent their death and yet you do nothing, you are partially responsible!"

Legally, seriouscat, that is the exactly wrong. Unless their is some sort of special relationship between you and the injured person, you have no legal duty to help them.

Morally, you're clearly correct. However, remember this is a lawsuit, so the question is whether there is a legal duty.

seriouscat 4 years, 11 months ago

Underage, on fraternity property, partying with (over 21) frat members, symptoms of life threatening illness most likely willfully ignored by said frat members, no changes in frat policy or behavior after said incident.

I'd say the parents have a pretty good case for negligence. I'll be watching.

KUWILLWOLF 4 years, 11 months ago

Does anyone even care that despite poor judgement or parent up bringing that this boy is still dead and the parents have to deal with the loss of their son? Really!!!

seriouscat 4 years, 11 months ago

Why can't society at large, and especially parents whose lives have been damaged stand up to institutions that have continued to practice damaging and degrading behaviors?

Not every kid who has died in a college drinking party has exhibited alcoholic behavior prior to dying a young preventable and tragic death.

All those jerks had to do was call an ambulance. They were too spineless and someone died.

volunteer 4 years, 11 months ago

One is thankful KU no longer has a chancellor who greets the student body as "party animals."

Randall Uhrich 4 years, 11 months ago

I joined a fraernity at K-State in 1966. At that time KSU already had a policy prohibitiing alcohol on fraternity or sorority property. How many more kids will die before KU catches up? They're already at least 44 years behind.

boothillbilly 4 years, 11 months ago

seriouscat- grow up. You can't protect everyone from everything.

rduhrich- what can KU do? Issue a carte blanche declaration of alcohol free frats. Great, so the go to bars, and you've now put more drunken pea brains on the road than before. Great solution.

Hektor- Great, incisive comments!

seriouscat 4 years, 11 months ago

Look, if those frat houses want to have all their members get stinking drunk every single night of the year they have very right to do that and I have no problem. If they want to make their members drink toilet water and stuff marshmallows up their own asses then by all means act like idiots. As long as no one gets hurt.

If they had done anything at all to help him, Jason Wren would likely be alive today. How is it asking too much or being too nanny-ish to expect people to call an ambulance when someone is dying?

Aileen Dingus 4 years, 11 months ago

How many people would be able to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning? How many stone sober 50 year olds could? How many drunken 20 somethings could? Would you be able to tell the difference between a "normal" drunk passed out and someone passed out AND suffering from alcohol poisoning?

As an adult who has had some training, yes- I could tell the difference. But as a college student I had no idea it even existed, let alone could ever happen to me or any of my friends.

Perhaps that's where emphasis should now be placed. The "Jason Wren Memorial Alcohol Education Seminar" to be held each semester in the dorms, in the fraternities and sororities- anywhere there's space. Show the signs of alcohol poisoning and TEACH people what it looks like, what it does.

beawolf 4 years, 11 months ago

As much as I feel for the parents, I can't help but think this is a frivolous lawsuit. Unfortunately, our court system allows this to happen. The attorney(s) on this case are most likely getting a percentage of the settlement and the parents will not have to spend their own money. Not that they should, however, if the case is ruled against them, their attorney should be liable for all of the defendants legal costs.

lionsrock 4 years, 11 months ago

Its a bad deal all the way around, but this guy got kicked out of dorm because of alchohol problems. Where do his parents come into it as far as him making the right choices in life?

Josh1122 4 years, 11 months ago

SeriousCat: You keep saying over and over that he got drunk at/because of the fraternity.

Fact Check: He got multiple margaritas at a local Lawrence restaurant (FACT- Tequila). Then he used his FAKE ID to illegally purchase more alcohol (FACT- he drank outside of the fraternity).

Conclusion: He drank/got drunk outside the fraternity facility...so why is the facility to blame??? Why not the liquor store, the person who made/sold him his FAKE ID, or the mexican restaurant????HMMMMMM???? still waiting for a valid argument to that one---

People in today's society go and blame blame blame the Greek system for being a party warehouse- have these people seem the dorms and off campus housing today...it is the same if not worse because those off campus housing and dorms do not have rules that require studying during the week...

GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT BEFORE POSTING IGNORANT COMMENTS!

seriouscat 4 years, 11 months ago

“Jason Wren and other underage SAE pledges were challenged to ‘man up’ games or ‘man challenges’ in which they were required to quickly drink large quantities of alcohol. The loser of the challenge was the first person who quit drinking or vomited,” the recently filed lawsuit claims.

If this is true, and it probably is, the parents have a case.

Had the fraternity done anything to indicate that they would try and prevent this type of thing from happening again (personal responsibility!) they wouldn't be getting sued.

If a swimming pool has a higher incident of drownings than other pools in the same area due to some deficienct policy, should they not change their policy to prevent additional deaths?

Josh1122 4 years, 11 months ago

Seriouscat:

It was investigated by the police and university officials and no hazing or foul play was determined. That is why neither the University, the City, or the Interfraternity Council filed any sanctions against the fraternity involved or kicked them off of campus.

The claim of being made to drink is unsubstantiated and a conspiracy that the father has been blabbing about since day 1 but is untrue. Again before you ASSUME something is true do a little homework.

Jimo 4 years, 11 months ago

"If someone is dying in front of you...."

This an assertion unsupported by any evidence. Nor is it even claimed in the lawsuit.

"Whether or not the kid had a drinking problem is irrelevant! How good a job his parents did is irrelevant!"

Under what theory is responsibility irrelevant?

Either this guy was a child and therefore was the responsibility of his parents to supervise or he was an adult and not anyone else's responsibility to supervise. (If he had been married, even his spouse would not have a legal duty to supervise him.) Since "The Law" does not make someone else responsible nor has anyone including the fraternity agreed to undertake such a responsibility, what is irrelevant is your argument. For the court to find (really, invent) a duty would be a radical change in Kansas law and probably make any fraternal organization too dangerous to exist under any circumstances as the liability would be, essentially, limitless, the standards of oversight vague and unspecified, and the fraternities means of enforcing them over a (allegedly) free adult impossible to carry out.

(Indeed, all that the fraternity could have done realistically is what KU housing did -- kick him out and let him drink himself to death on someone else's property.)

Again, the fraternity's real mistake was not screening this very troubled person before letting him in.

seriouscat 4 years, 11 months ago

"Since “The Law” does not make someone else responsible nor has anyone including the fraternity agreed to undertake such a responsibility, what is irrelevant is your argument."

We're not talking about an individual's back yard barbecue here, SAE is a national institution, institutions by nature have more power over individuals than other individuals do and therefore are held to a different standard. SAE houses across the nation have established a pattern of behavior that has directly lead to multiple alcohol deaths and near deaths.

If they are going to insist on continuing the same asinine behavior that has lead to so many people dying, they can at the very least change their policies surrounding that behavior in order to prevent people dying. Dazie's post above about educating people on how to recognize the symptoms of alcohol poisoning would be a good start.

Since they did nothing at all, and by doing nothing are very likely contributing to the distinct possibility of more people getting hurt, they deserve to be getting sued.

Disagree? Fine. I'm not getting sucked further into the pissing contest that is the LJW forums. The final answer will come down from the courts and that is I where I will be focusing any more of my attention on this case.

Jimo 4 years, 11 months ago

"The final answer will come down from the courts"

And no doubt you'll be belly-aching that you still don't get it, that people can't so easily shift their responsibilities upon the world at large. My god man, I hope you're never on a jury. You wouldn't hold Charles Manson responsible for his own actions.

"change their policies"

How did the fraternities policies cause this destructive alcoholic to drink? Sorry, but this guy's destiny was written by himself before anyone at the fraternity had ever met him. There might be a case for other individuals - some naive, inexperienced freshman - but those facts aren't here. What's worse, it is outrageous that his parents, who had actual knowledge of his problems, and who took no action even when they found out he'd moved into a fraternity, now want to sue others for not doing their own job. And there's more - they don't just want some blood money paid. They've been very clear in the media that they want to impose a draconian policy of prohibition that is well-documented to be a failure (and when I say failure I mean resulting in more drinking and especially more harmful attitudes towards alcohol).

The fraternity was responsible like KU was responsible. Like the Kansas Alcohol Board was responsible. Like liquor manufacturers were responsible. Like advertising media were responsible. Like the store clerk was responsible. Like everyone else in the world was responsible.

Jersey_Girl 4 years, 11 months ago

From previous articles, it is my understanding that the boy lied to his parents about why he was kicked out of the dorm and he used a fake ID at the Mexican restaurant that served him the margaritas. If it has been stated as to where he got the Jack Daniel's, I missed it. I'm a bit disgusted that people are blaming the parents for not teaching their son about alcohol. We don't know that. How do you propose parents teach kids about alcohol? Tell them not to drink at all until they are legal? Chances are, they'll just overindulge given the chance. Being strict without being overly strict is a fine line and a balancing act that differs from child to child. I'm neutral on the liability of the fraternity. I don't know enough about fraternity living to judge their responsibility here. Is the house mother being named? What exactly is the responsibility of a house mother? And what is the massive head injury? Where did it come from? When did it happen? How did it happen? Did it play into poor decision making on the boy's part?

lester_burnham 4 years, 10 months ago

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