Archive for Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Attorney: Fraternity has not changed in wake of Jason Wren’s death

Jason Wren with his father, Jay.

Jason Wren with his father, Jay.

November 16, 2010


Related document

Plaintiff's Motion in Jason Wren Lawsuit ( .PDF )

Related document

Defendant's Motion in Jason Wren Lawsuit ( .PDF )

An attorney for the parents of Jason Wren, a Kansas University student who died in 2009 from alcohol poisoning, alleges a KU fraternity has not changed its conduct toward underage drinking since Wren’s death.

Attorney Stephen Gorny, in a recent filing in the wrongful death suit, alleges “future possible harm to other victims is likely” based on an alcohol violation the fraternity committed in April 2010, a year after Wren’s death and six days before an underage drinking educational seminar on campus called the Jason Wren Initiative.

But Michael Seck, an attorney for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, said Gorny cannot use incidents that occurred after Wren’s death as evidence to seek punitive damages in the suit and that the chapter expelled nearly two dozen active members from the house after the April 2010 alcohol violation.

Wren, a 19-year-old KU freshman from Littleton, Colo., was found dead March 8, 2009, at the SAE house, 1301 W. Campus Road, after a night of heavy drinking. His death was one event that put a spotlight on underage drinking on the KU campus.

In the lawsuit, Wren’s family alleges fraternity members failed to seek medical help for their son despite his intoxication and a head injury. Wren had used a fake ID earlier in the night to drink alcohol at a restaurant. He then continued to drink beer and liquor later at the chapter house, according to the suit.

Wren was living there as a pledge after he violated KU’s alcohol policy and was no longer allowed to live in a KU residence hall. According to the autopsy, Wren’s blood-alcohol content was 0.362 percent, more than four times the legal limit to drive in Kansas.

Seeking punitive damages

Gorny said Wren’s family should be able to seek punitive damages in addition to actual damages in the case.

“Plaintiffs learned that defendants acted in a wanton manner with the complete disregard for the safety and well-being of Jason Wren prior to his death,” Gorny wrote. “Additionally, the defendants have continued a pattern of disregarding and failing to enforce fraternity rules and regulations and state law regarding alcohol consumption since Jason Wren’s death.”

Defendants in the case are the SAE Fraternal Association, Kansas Alpha House Corp., the SAE Fraternity and 10 chapter members, who are each identified as John Doe.

In his motion, Gorny claims a national fraternity spokesman publicly said SAE closed its internal investigation into Wren’s death after finding no criminal actions or negligence and calling it an “unfortunate, isolated incident.”

But Gorny cites documents and a deposition of Frank Ginocchio, general counsel for the national fraternity, that the investigation into Wren’s death showed numerous violations of risk management rules regarding underage drinking and “providing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated member.”

The Kansas chapter was required to pay an increased risk management premium and encouraged to implement at least a one-semester ban on alcohol in the chapter house, according to Gorny’s motion.

Gorny wrote that Ginocchio said president John Stacy and other members of the housing corporation, which owns the chapter house, twice decided against a recommendation to ban alcohol in the chapter house “in part because it was too harsh of a punishment and out of concern that the collegiate members would chose to rent another property and the housing corporation would lose its tenants.”

In his response, Seck, an attorney for the defendants, opposes Gorny’s motion for Wren’s family to seek punitive damages, saying state law does not allow it in a wrongful death suit.

Seck also stressed Gorny failed to mention the national fraternity only recommended prohibiting alcohol in the chapter house after the incident involving Wren’s death.

“There was no reason to prohibit alcohol consumption in the house prior to the incident, as there was no indication that alcohol consumption was a problem at the house,” Seck wrote. “Indeed, there were no prior occasions regarding alcohol consumption by minors at the house and there were no prior occasions where house members or guests necessitated medical care as a result of alcohol.”

2010 alcohol violation

After his son’s death, Jay Wren was a vocal critic of underage drinking, and after filing the suit, Gorny said the family was disappointed the fraternity did not take more steps on the issue.

In his recent motion, Gorny said documents show the national fraternity found the local SAE chapter committed an alcohol violation on April 10, 2010, by purchasing alcohol, including vodka, with chapter funds and provided it to pledges. The alcohol violation occurred six days before the fraternity and other organizations hosted an underage drinking seminar on campus, known as The Jason Wren Initiative.

“It’s tragic that it’s continuing to happen in that very same house,” Gorny said in an interview.

Seck said he does not discuss litigation with the media, but in his response to Gorny’s motion he wrote any behavior after the incident is “irrelevant to the mind-state” of defendants prior to the alleged conduct that caused Wren’s death and that the fraternity took proper disciplinary measures.

“The plaintiff cannot use events that occurred after the incident as a basis for punitive damages on the current claim,” Seck wrote. “The fact is, after the April 10, 2010, violation — which occurred after the Wren incident — 22 active members were expelled from the house.”

SAE members have spoken out before saying the chapter has changed since Wren’s death. Jeffrey Wilson, a KU senior and SAE member, wrote in an Oct. 27 letter published in the University Daily Kansan that in addition to enforcing existing rules on underage drinking, hard liquor is prohibited on the property and beer can only be consumed by members who are 21 or older.

A status conference in the Wren lawsuit with Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to begin April 25.

Among issues expected to be taken up in court Wednesday, Gorny is asking Malone for more time for the plaintiff to disclose expert witnesses in the case and conduct other depositions. He said the process has taken longer than originally thought due to other circumstances.

“Following Jason Wren’s death, Jason’s younger sister committed suicide. Tragically, months later, Jason’s mother Mary also took her own life,” Gorny wrote.

He also filed a motion to remove Mary Wren as a plaintiff and make Jay Wren the only one in the case.


oneeye_wilbur 3 years, 5 months ago

And as my aunt said, her only comments losing her son in Vietnam was "we were lucky to have his whole body come home".

He is buried beside his mother and his father who blamed no one.


cheeseburger 3 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Wren taught his son to be a boozer, and now that something has gone tragically wrong, he wants to blame someone else. Sorry - the responsibility lies solely with Jay Wren's parenting and Jason Wren's behavior.

I do feel for Jay in the loss of his entire family, but as a previous poster noted, he has lost his two children and wife - all over a stupid beverage. How pathetic is that?


notajayhawk 3 years, 5 months ago

"his frat brothers never tried to stop"

"they did not stop"

"They did not take him to the hospital"

I've been to the occasional stage play, and never seen an actor credited with 'playing a role' for not doing anything. What they did not do is not the same thing as 'playing a role'. If you didn't give me $1,000, you did not play a role in my poverty. If you did not stop to help me change a tire, you did not cause my car to be broken down. The young man had just moved in that day and led them to believe he was a major-league drinker. They were supposed to know how, again, that he couldn't handle that much?

"I also understand that his frat brothers kept forcing him back to bed after he passed out. "

Um - after he passed out, he wouldn't have been trying to get out of bed to get to the bathroom.

"If someone calls a doctor or takes him to the ER, Jason Wren is alive today. Period. Simple as that. There is no argument in this statement."

So you're a doctor, then? What was his blood alcohol content? What is the cause of death from acute alcohol poisoning? How long did they have to get him to the hospital, and what is the average response time for an ambulance, and subsequent transport to the hospital? What treatment would have been performed?

"It is about responsibility. Yes, Jason was responsible for drinking himself to death. His fraternity was responsible for not getting him medical attention."

If he had not drunk himself to death, there would have been no reason for them to call for medical attention.

"Hopefully, it won't be at that frat house again."

Then it will be somewhere else. I came very close to ending up exactly like Mr. Wren when I was young and stupid and in college. I didn't live in a frat house, it happened when I was living in the dorm. Directly across the hall from the RA's room. You can blame it on the frat all you want for not saving him - it still boils down to his own choices and his own actions that caused his death, he would not have needed saving if not for those.


7texdude 3 years, 5 months ago

The fraternity did play a role in Jason's death. Stop saying that it did not. Yes, Mr. Wren drank too much that night, but his frat brothers never tried to stop an underage drinker. Even better, they did not stop someone from getting hammered right after he moved into the house because of three drinking violations in the dorm. I thought frat guys were supposed to look out for each other, right?

If I recall in the original story, Mr. Wren went to the Mexican restaurant, drank there and then walked around the frat holding and drinking a bottle of whiskey. He bragged that he never throws up. Any time some guy - stranger or friend in high school or college to adult- ever told me that, it would turn into a circus.

I also understand that his frat brothers kept forcing him back to bed after he passed out. They did not allow him to get to the bathroom. They did not take him to the hospital or call 911. If someone calls a doctor or takes him to the ER, Jason Wren is alive today. Period. Simple as that. There is no argument in this statement.

I don't know Jay Wren, but I feel for him. He has a right to demand that KU check into this and stop something else from happening. You know, like a swimming pool/high dive accident on campus.

It is about responsibility. Yes, Jason was responsible for drinking himself to death. His fraternity was responsible for not getting him medical attention. Jay Wren's pain is still there. It will always be there. Just like alcohol and binge drinking will always be here at KU. Hopefully, it won't be at that frat house again. That is not too much to ask.


notajayhawk 3 years, 5 months ago

As I've stated above, I don't think the fraternity is to blame for the death of this young man. But for pete's sake, people, give his father a break. He lost his son, his wife, and his daughter. That is an absolutely unbelievable amount of grief for a single human being to have to endure. A normal part of the grieving process is anger, because it's a very powerful emotion that is often the only thing that can fend off the absolute despair. Unfortunately, that anger usually needs a target, which is why it always looks like the survivors are trying to push the blame onto someone.

He may not be justified in suing the fraternity, but can you all please have a little consideration for everything he's going through, and why he might be doing what he's doing?


2013expectus 3 years, 5 months ago

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akt2 3 years, 5 months ago

It's a bunch of crap. He wasn't drinking alone. You'd think that out of all the college educated participants, that someone would have checked on him or dialed 911. Were they all so drunk that they couldn't see straight? I hope they graduate with an ounce of common sense. Maybe the next time, and there will be a next time, someone will have enough sense to notice what could happen. When you've seen a teenager or college aged, alcohol intoxicated, kid intubated because they can't breathe on their own, you can appreciate the possibility that they don't have to die. And you can appreciate the fact that someone had the sense to get help.


Ray Parker 3 years, 5 months ago

If none of the frat boys went to prison for furnishing alcohol to a minor, failure to summon emergency medical aid, or wrongful death, then why would they change their boozing practices?


justanotherface 3 years, 5 months ago

The story of what's happened to this family is very tragic. Mr. Wren has my sympathies there. However, to blame anyone else for this young man's death is ridiculous. College kids drink, that's nothing new and will never change. When I was a KU student, we drank a lot, not because we were pressured into it, but because we WANTED to. And whenever something stupid happened because of it, we didn't blame other people because it was OUR choice. Today's society is way too quick to blame everyone except themselves and I'm afraid that's what's going on here. IF this father was out at the bars taking pictures with his son a few weeks before this happened, he already knew about his son's behavior and was encouraging it. It's not the frat's fault this young man is dead now, it's the young man's fault.


2013expectus 3 years, 5 months ago

Didn't Sigma Nu get shut down for the same thing?


missmagoo 3 years, 5 months ago

"Following Jason Wren’s death, Jason’s younger sister committed suicide. Tragically, months later, Jason’s mother Mary also took her own life,” Gorny wrote.

What a nightmare. Mr. Wren, regardless of the suit and how it ends up, my heart goes out to you for all you've endured. I think we could all agree losing your entire family is pretty much everyone's worst nightmare.


ashmole 3 years, 5 months ago

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Vinny1 3 years, 5 months ago

This guy needs to let it go.

The only people at fault are him, and his son. He took and drank with his son at a bar a couple weeks before he died. He knew his son had and used a fake ID. He knew his son got kicked out of the dorms. He let him join and move into a frat. His son had drinking problems all the way back to high school at home.

To try and blame and ruin anyone else is just a reflection on how little he actually cares about his sons death. He is just now trying to get money out of it. He isn't actually helping anything.

If this guy gets any amount of money it is a complete failure by the governmental systems.


purplesage 3 years, 5 months ago

I am certainly glad for redcoalcarpet's voice of moderation. I am not surprised by the insensitivity being expressed. Did you people even read what has happened to the Wren famil!!!??? Their son goes off to college, goes on a drinking rampage, but no one advises the parents. Then, the son dies after a night of encouragement to drink, if not actively by the frat brothers, certainly passively by the environment. Then his sister suicides, followed by his mother - and you are audacious enough to criticize the surviving family member for seeking some remedy and for speaking up. Enough already.


tao7 3 years, 5 months ago

“Indeed, there were no prior occasions regarding alcohol consumption by minors at the house and there were no prior occasions where house members or guests necessitated medical care as a result of alcohol.” That's because they didn't get caught not because they didn't do it. I've known members of SAE and it's a party house, always has been.


Robert Rauktis 3 years, 5 months ago

Sorry, Mr. Wren, looking in the mirror is real tough.


oneeye_wilbur 3 years, 5 months ago

The father should have never allowed the kid to move into the fraternity let alone go drinking with him on the weekend he moved in. What is done is done.

My comment to the tather if I had a chance to sit down with him would be the same comment as my late aunt made to me about my cousin's death in Viet Nam.

She said "we were very lucky to have his whole body come home".

Neither she nor my late uncle blamed anyone!

They had the child's whole body. Mr. Wren, be grateful you did as well.


Kontum1972 3 years, 5 months ago

so why hasnt the national organization not pulled their charter and closed down the fraternity, why hasnt the Pan-Hellelllenic counsel of fraternities nationally weighted in on this, and their alumni base?

who runs the show?


StirrrThePot 3 years, 5 months ago

Following Jason Wren’s death, Jason’s younger sister committed suicide. Tragically, months later, Jason’s mother Mary also took her own life,” Gorny wrote.

WOW. This is so tragic I cannot express adequate words. My heart breaks for Jay Wren and his family. I am so sorry to read this.


ylime3499 3 years, 5 months ago

No where did I read that Mr. Wren was putting all the blame on anyone or any organization ... are the horrible comments being written, because the reporter didn't interview him directly to see if he truly feels one "thing" is to blame? Not a single one of you knows the amount of pain he is going through, for all you know he does blame himself entirely but it eases the pain to realize he's not the only one at fault.

We are all humans, and parents do make mistakes. For those that are saying they would have done something differently I dare you to tell us the worst thing that ever happened to your child that was your fault ... or have you never done anything wrong?


ylime3499 3 years, 5 months ago

My thoughts go out to you Mr. Wren. I am so sorry for your loses. If you do read these comments do not let them bring you down. No one understands what you're going through. I can't imagine you would wish the amount of heart ache you're going through on anyone, but I am finding it hard not to for some of the humans who commented on here.

Good luck to you with the rest of your life indeed it will be a struggle every day.


sissezz 3 years, 5 months ago

sadly its all to Easy to get Alcohol in Lawrence if u are a minor...... Where are the parents??? And yeah i know what im talkin about....i have two teens. Thank god they are good and thank god i have enough brains to keep an eye on them


kernal 3 years, 5 months ago

Seems evident the son had a drinking problem, but it was not going to be a problem for him until he was ready to admit to it and of course he did not live that long. Alcoholism is a genetic tendency. Mr. Wren needs to take a good hard look at himself as he is on the way to hitting bottom and it will be a hard fall.


Eybea Opiner 3 years, 5 months ago

If I remember correctly, this is the dad who said he knew his son drank in high school, but only drank with the "good kids." I, too, empathize with his loss, but he really needs to look in the mirror when trying to find fault.


Bud Stagg 3 years, 5 months ago

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MacHeath 3 years, 5 months ago

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somedude20 3 years, 5 months ago

money money money mon-ney People rarely look inward when bad things happen but they always find someone to blame. I feel for the father as he lost his son but his son was to blame for his own actions. I believe the son went drinking (underage) at a Mexican restaurant and then beers and a fair amount of vodka.


Zachary Stoltenberg 3 years, 5 months ago

Mr. Wren and the LJWorld have worked very hard to make this a fraternity issue when it absolutely is not. I was in a fraternity and many of my friends were in fraternities. Yes there was drinking, almost as much as when I lived on daisy hill. There were absolutely no drugs, though there were plenty when I lived in the dorms, and there was always oversight, never the case in Templin. Jason was not a fraternity member. He had been kicked out of the dorms for drinking too damn much and moved into the fraternity that morning. I don't care where he moved, you can bet his pattern of behavior would have shown him to go out and party it up that he was no longer in the dorms. They could have very easily found him dead in an apartment the next morning instead of a fraternity room.
This case should absolutely be about what led up to this event and I would argue that Jason was on the path to self destruction long before that evening. There were multiple facebook pictures of him and his dad out at the bars before a fall football game, both with a beer in hand. His dad knew he drank, probably even bought it for him. More often than naught, this pattern of behavior was manifest even when he was in high school. He didn't move to KU and say "now that I'm a Jayhawk, I think I'll become an alcoholic." The bottom line is, Jay Wren is angry. He's regretful and sorry that he forgot to be a father while his son spiraled out of control. He's angry he lost his daughter to the fallout, and his wife over the deaths of two kids. But he's not angry at the fraternity, he's angry at himself, for not doing what he should have while he still had the chance. There is a lesson to be learned from these deaths, be your kids parent, not their best friend. This wasn't the fraternity or the Greek system's fault. It wasn't a corrupt culture of college drinking. It was a plain and simple lack of parenting. I don't care if my kids hate me for not letting them go to that AWESOME party that EVERYONE is going to. I'll make sure they live through that night.


Jim Williamson 3 years, 5 months ago

This kid's family needs to stop it and take a good hard look in the mirror. His behaviors and choices were locked into place long before he became an SAE.


Jacks_Smirking_Revenge 3 years, 5 months ago

It is sad that the kid died because this could have been prevented by the parents as emaw suggested. Instead of seeking help for the student, the family allowed him to join a fraternity. While I'll be the first to stand and fight for fraternities as a great college experience offering a wide range of positive choices, I'll also admit that they are more apt to socialization that involves alcohol. Because of this poor choice, the family is now seeking a suit against a group out of grief and the chance at financial retribution for a mistake they could have avoided.

tl;dr: Should have skipped SAE and gone to the other lettered organization AA.


seriouscat 3 years, 5 months ago

Wow. I'm about to come under fire here but I can't believe the aloof 'too bad so sad' attitude. How do you people expect anything to change for the better if everything bad that happens to an individual or a family is 'all their fault'.

You sound like the people who used to say "well if a girl dresses like a slut and gets raped she was asking for it".

I'm not asking anyone to agree with me that it's possible that the culture of the fraternity is partly responsible for Jason's death. But how about trying to look at the situation with a bit more nuance to your perspective. The culture of any given institution has a lot to do with what kind of behavior goes on in it. If a business has rampant problems with sexual harassment, it's not just each individual who commits the act who is responsible, the business is also responsible because it is an institution and therefore has more influence over its members behavior than other individuals.

If there is a pattern of behavior present in the frat house that is conducive to people drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol, then the frat house is liable for allowing that pattern to continue and further endangering people's lives. Even if someone has a pattern of drinking too much before becoming a member, the institution itself condoned and perpetuated it.


Esq2eB 3 years, 5 months ago

He wasn't even with the fraternity for a whole year. And if I remember correctly there were a lot of pictures of Jason and his Dad drinking together up on Facebook, which were immediately removed after the kid OD'd.


Adrienne Sanders 3 years, 5 months ago

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emaw 3 years, 5 months ago

Why wasn't the dad a vocal critic of underage drinking when his son was kicked out of the dorms for drinking? That might've been a warning that the kid had a problem. Sounds like another sue happy situation.


fu7il3 3 years, 5 months ago

Jeez, is this still going on? How is the frat that had this kid for one year more responsible for his poor choices than his dad who had him for eighteen? Somehow, other college kids, even frat guys, manage to make it through an entire college career in one piece. I haven't been seeing stories about the other kids in that frat drinking themselves to death.

I feel for the guy that a good chunk of his family is dead, but it is a result of their own actions, not someone else.


Matthew Herbert 3 years, 5 months ago

wait.....are you trying to tell me that frat boys drink? I've heard some outlandish things in my day, but that one is just over the top.


kansasredlegs 3 years, 5 months ago

"possible future harm to more victims" - This is the victimization of America, it can't be my fault - I guess I didn't realize that drinking oneself to death was the fault of others. I'm sorry for your loss, but allowing 'your' attorney to call him a victim is misplaced and shows the level to which he will grovel for the almighty dollar.


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