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Lawyer: Tucson teen died at ‘out of control’ fraternity

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

CARMEL, Ind. – An attorney representing the family of a freshman at an Indiana college who died of alcohol poisoning released e-mails Wednesday which he said paint a picture of an out-of-control fraternity house.

The family of 18-year-old Johnny D. Smith of Tucson wants to know whether hazing played a role in his death last month at Wabash College.

“There is no conduct policy at Wabash, there is no alcohol policy. There is a gentlemen’s rule that is no rule,” attorney Stephen Wagner said during a news conference at his suburban Indianapolis office.

Smith was found unconscious at the Delta Tau Delta chapter house on Oct. 5 and paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene. The college later disbanded the chapter following an investigation.

A spokesman for Wabash College, an all-male liberal arts school of some 900 students, declined comment Wednesday. The Associated Press also left a phone message seeking comment from Delta Tau Delta’s national headquarters, which had suspended the chapter following Smith’s death.

Smith’s death was the second in about a year at Wabash in which alcohol may have played a part. A 19-year-old Wabash freshman died in October 2007 when he slipped and fell from a roof at the campus in Crawfordsville, about 40 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Tests showed he had been drinking.

Wagner said the profanity-laced e-mails and others Smith’s family had uncovered showed “an out-of-control fraternity house where hazing and alcohol abuse were rampant.” While officials with the fraternity’s national office have declined to say whether a party had been held at the house the night before Smith’s death, one of the e-mails indicates a party had been planned for that weekend.

“There will be an abundance of alcohol,” including four beer kegs, the e-mail states.

One e-mail warns members to deny hazing occurs during a visit from a national fraternity representative, while another urges members to haze others if they fail to do kitchen chores.

Delta Tau Delta executive vice president Jim Russell said the national fraternity’s own investigation was ongoing and he would not comment on the materials distributed at the news conference.

He said the news conference seemed contrary to legal ethics prohibiting lawyers from discussing matters under investigation or potential litigation before trial.

Wagner urged anyone who knows anything about what happened the night Smith died to come forward “to put some pressure on Wabash to do the right thing and give these 18-year-olds some instruction before sending them into a fraternity house with no supervision other than the upperclassmen who are encouraging the drinking.”

Smith lived at the Delta Tau Delta house and had pledged to the fraternity, but had not yet been initiated. Alcohol is allowed in the Wabash fraternity houses, but only for students who are 21 years or older.

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