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- HISTORY CHANNEL LOOKS AT FRATERNITIES
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- MISSISSIPPI WRONGFUL DEATH CASES SETTLED
- SPEECH CODES REMAIN UNDER ATTACK
Newsletter > September 2003 > "MISSISSIPPI WRONGFUL DEATH CASES SETTLED"
MISSISSIPPI WRONGFUL DEATH CASES SETTLED
Nathan W. Sprong
Two twenty-year-old Sigma Phi Epsilon recruits died July 26, 1998, the evening they attended a recruiting event for the Mississippi State University Chapter at the Iron Horse Grill in Jackson, Mississippi. Joshua Jones and Matthew Freeman were killed when the vehicle they were passengers in flipped over a bridge railing. At the time of the accident, the driver, Kevin Tabereaux, then 20, had a blood alcohol level of 0.23 percent, more than double the legal limit of 0.10. He was convicted of vehicular homicide.
A Sigma Phi Epsilon designated driver started out taking the three young men home and reportedly dropped them off a block from one of their houses. There is evidence that the boys were seen at a convenience store approximately 30 minutes after being dropped off by the designated driver. The Toyota 4-Runner driven by Tabereaux flipped over the bridge a short time thereafter.
Tabereaux was given a 10-year sentence, then Circuit Judge Robert Goza suspended about nine years, with Tabereaux having to spend six months in jail and six to eight months under house arrest.1
In the civil suits that followed, attorneys for the families of the dead recruits argued that because the Fraternity knew of past drinking problems at the Chapter, the fraternity was liable for the deaths.
Confidential settlement agreements earlier this year ultimately ended the cases brought by the Jones and Freeman families against The Great Iron Horse Corporation and Sigma Phi Epsilon.
Several lessons can be found in this case. First, obviously, is the tragic deaths of young people that can result from the abuse of alcohol. Second, the consequences from such abuse, even for the survivors, can be long lasting – five years from the deaths to settlement of the suits, potentially long jail sentences. Third, well-intentioned programs like designated drivers are not a security blanket protecting against all liability or suits, especially when underage drinking is involved.
1The Clarion-Ledger, May 21, 2003, by Jimmie E. Gates