Student death prompts tougher hazing penalties in Louisiana

Published 2:21 pm Thursday, May 17, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The parents of a college student who died in a drinking gantlet last year have persuaded lawmakers to toughen anti-hazing laws.

House lawmakers late Wednesday gave final passage to two proposals that would make hazing resulting in death a felony; levy fines on organizations that knowingly allow hazing to occur; and require fraternities to report hazing to schools.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign both bills, both of which passed the House by a vote of 88-1 and have won widespread support in the Legislature.

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Legislators took action at the urging of the parents of Louisiana State University freshman Maxwell Gruver.

One bill, known as The Max Gruver Act, would create a felony hazing charge of up to five years in prison when a victim dies or is seriously injured.

Sponsored by Rep. Nancy Landry, the bill also would increase the current penalties for hazing from up to 30 days in jail to a maximum of six months.

Organizations that knowingly allow hazing could also face a fine of up to $10,000 and be barred from operating if the Republican’s measure becomes law.

The second bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Carter, would make the Board of Regents adopt a uniform policy on hazing prevention and require that schools give new students a handbook about the dangers of hazing.

Fraternity members found Gruver, 18, lying on a couch and couldn’t tell if he was breathing after a night of heavy drinking at the Phi Delta Theta house on LSU’s campus last September, authorities said. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. A coroner concluded that Gruver died of acute alcohol intoxication with aspiration, meaning he inhaled vomit and other fluid into his lungs.

In March, LSU announced that it rescinded the fraternity’s registration at the college. Phi Delta Theta said it was suspending operations at the university shortly after Gruver’s death. Four people were charged in Gruver’s death.

If Landry’s bill becomes law, Louisiana will join at least 11 other states that have made hazing a felony when it ends in death or serious injury, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures. Hazing deaths at other universities have led to criminal charges in states including Florida and Pennsylvania.