Charges filed in death of WSU fraternity pledge

PULLMAN, Wash. — Prosecutors in Whitman County have filed charges against 15 current or former members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at Washington State University for the death of a 19-year-old pledge.

The charges were filed Wednesday relating to Samuel Martinez from Bellevue. He was a freshman at the university and previously attended Newport High School in Bellevue.

He died of acute alcohol intoxication Nov. 12, 2019, after attending a fraternity event. Martinez’s death was ruled accidental by the county coroner.

The charges filed in Whitman County specifically accuse Martinez’s “big” – Wesley Oswald, also from Bellevue — of supplying liquor to Martinez.

The charge all 15 face is “furnishing alcohol to minors” — a gross misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In a statement on Wednesday, Martinez’s family said, “That is insulting compared to the devastating consequences of their actions, which directly led to Sam’s death, and the loss we are living with for the rest of our lives.”

Earlier this year in February, the Pullman Police Department chief also recommended filing hazing charges.

However, the one-year statute of limitations for hazing had already passed.

“This is not justice. It does not bring us closure. We are deeply disappointed that no one will face a charge of hazing in this case,” Martinez’s family said.

As for why the investigation took so long, the Pullman police chief told CBS affiliate KREM that police faced staffing shortages and challenges interviewing the dozens of people involved.

“The logistics of trying to set up in-person interviews with all the witnesses — many who were not in Pullman when we were trying to interview them — really added to the timeline of completing this investigation,” said Chief Gary Jenkins.

The family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against ATO and WSU in June of last year. The lawsuit describes Martinez’s death.

It indicated there was a “Big-Little” event at ATO where Martinez and another pledge were given “a ½ gallon bottle of hard alcohol,” and pledges were “instructed to consume the family’s alcoholic ‘drink’ before the end of the evening.”

The documents indicated that by “10:30 PM, Sam had lost consciousness.” About an hour later, some fraternity brothers moved him down to the basement and positioned him lying on his side.

The next morning, “emergency personnel were finally summoned but were unable to revive Sam as a result of the delay. Sam was pronounced dead at the scene,” according to the lawsuit.

Martinez’s blood alcohol content was at 0.372 during his autopsy.

The family’s fight now is working to change the culture at universities.

“That should start with making hazing a felony in Washington, not a misdemeanor, and extending the statute of limitations to ensure that hazing never goes unpunished again,” they said in the statement.