FRANKFORT – (TNS) The Kentucky Senate will get a bill that would create a new crime in Kentucky specifically crafted to punish people involved in college hazing.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed Senate Bill 9 after hearing from the family of Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Kentucky who died of alcohol toxicity in 2021.
Hazelwood drank approximately 18 one-ounce shots of Wild Turkey 101 bourbon within a 45-minute span at the FarmHouse Fraternity house, according to an investigative report from UK. This took place before the fraternity’s tradition of “serenades,” where members visited sorority houses and sang to members.
Tracey Hazelwood, the student’s mother, told lawmakers that after he pledged FarmHouse, her son had to participate in illegal acts that “could have got him kicked out of school” in order to belong to the fraternity. On the night he died, she said, his blood alcohol concentration was 0.354. The legal limit for adults to drive is 0.08.
Drinking Wild Turkey 101 ahead of the serenade was considered part of the FarmHouse tradition, Tracey Hazelwood said.
“He had drank so much that he couldn’t walk,” Tracey Hazelwood said. “They took him up to a bedroom upstairs and they left him by himself and they all left to go serenading. It was almost an hour later when a young man came back into the house and found him. And it was just too late.”
“We beg of you to pass this law because we don’t want anybody to go through what we went through,” she added. “I want everybody to think about being three hours away and you get that phone call.”
The bill defines hazing as any actions that endanger the mental or physical health of minors or students for the purpose of recruiting them into an organization or promoting them within an organization. It includes, but isn’t limited to, violations of criminal law; consuming alcohol, tobacco or food in a dangerous manner; physical brutality, such as whipping, beating or branding; exposure to the elements; sexual brutality; personal servitude; or sleep deprivation.
Under the bill, it would be a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison to intentionally or wantonly engage in hazing if it results in death or serious physical injury to a minor or a student. A person who recklessly engages in hazing could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
The bill offers a few exemptions, including “reasonable and customary” acts that are part of athletic training or sporting events, law enforcement training or military training.
Only 13 states currently have an anti-hazing law, sponsors said. At present in Kentucky, they said, universities can expel students and take administrative actions against organizations, but there are no criminal laws that directly apply to hazing, other than perhaps wanton endangerment.
After Hazelwood’s death, the FarmHouse Fraternity’s status as a student organization was revoked by UK and the national chapter. Members living in the house were ordered to move out, and a no-contact order was issued, meaning members of the UK chapter could have no association with FarmHouse for seven years.
But there must be stronger consequences, said the bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson.
“For far too long, hazing has been this awkward rite of passage in Kentucky and other states that many still refuse to acknowledge is wrong. We believe that the elevation of hazing to a crime addresses head-on the seriousness of these actions,” Mills said.
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