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The parents of a Florida State University student who died in an alleged hazing incident are pushing for a new federal anti-hazing law. Junioron a couch the morning after a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity party in November. A lawsuit claims he’d been asked to drink an entire bottle of 101-proof bourbon. He died of acute alcohol poisoning.
Nine fraternity brothers pleaded not guilty to hazing charges.
Hazing has killed at least one person a year since 1961, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil. Andrew was one of four victims in 2017. In the lawsuit, the Coffey family is seeking justice and accountability. Their goal is to help lead a new movement against hazing, one that might keep their son’s memory alive by saving others.
“If people in the past had gotten together, maybe my son would still be here, if hazing wasn’t a problem. So therefore, we have to yell as loud as we can in order to get this stopped,” father Tom Coffey told “CBS This Morning,” speaking publicly for the first time. “I don’t want another family going through what we go through. Crying ourselves to sleep.”
It’s been just four months since Tom and Sandra Coffey got the news that their 20-year-old son had died in an alleged hazing incident.
“When you send your child away, it’s the last thing you’re thinking of. Never even crosses your mind,” Tom added. “It’s getting him into his dorm, getting his classes lined up. Getting, you know … This never crossed my mind.”
“I remember driving, going, ‘This doesn’t happen to us,'” Sandra said.
Andrew was a high school athlete with dreams of joining the Navy after college.
“Great kid,” Sandra said. “You could count on him.”
“Handsome as the day is long and a smile that’ll light up a room, you know,” Tom described.
Becoming a brother in Pi Kappa Phi was a goal even before he enrolled at Florida State.
“His friends belonged and he’d joined with them at some of the fraternity functions and everything else and wanted to belong,” Tom said.
“What did you guys think about him becoming a brother?” Dokoupil asked.
“Just told him we had a deal. We just said … grades suffer because of partying or something like that, then, you know, you’re out. And he agreed to that,” Tom said.
“But the idea of a fraternity sounds like a good one, right?” Dokoupil asked.
“It does. Support system. Brothers, friendships for life,” Tom said.
But according to a lawsuit filed by the Coffeys, the fraternity “had been hazing and having pledges abuse alcohol for years.” On the night of his death, Andrew drank a bottle of 101-proof bourbon in an initiation ritual known as “the family bottle.”
It wasn’t until the next morning that a pledge called 911.
“His lips are purple, his body is extremely stiff and… I can’t wake him up and I honestly don’t feel a pulse,” the caller said to the 911 dispatcher.
Why the fraternity brothers waited so long to call is a question that “wakes us up in the middle of the night,” Sandra said.
“There were estimated 100 people at that party,” Tom said. “And 99 of them didn’t help my son. … Andrew died in a room full of people that just didn’t care. And he died alone.”
A spokesperson for Pi Kappa Phi said “with the pending litigation we are unable to provide comment.”
David Bianchi, the Coffeys’ attorney who helped pass a Florida law in 2005 that made hazing a felony, also blocks defendants from claiming the victim went along willingly.
“Hazing is the byproduct of peer pressure, and peer pressure gets really good young people to do things that they would otherwise never do,” Bianchi said.
The legislation, named after hazing victim Chad Meredith, is one of the strictest in the nation. Seventeen years after Chad’s death, parents Gerry and Carol Meredith are still fighting to expand the laws.
“You know, every morning I see his picture, I’ll talk to him about it. Sayin’, ‘They’re still workin’ on it.’ So I pray,” Carol said.
“There will be people who will watch this interview and they’ll think to themselves, ‘Hazing has been happening for decades.’ What hope is there really that it’s ever gonna end? It’s an unstoppable problem,” Dokoupil pointed out.
“Well, if we don’t do something, it definitely is not gonna end,” Gerry said.
They’ve joined with the Coffeys and more than a dozen other surviving families to form PUSH, Parents United to Stop Hazing. It includes the
“How do you break the cycle?” Dokoupil asked.
“Accountability and education,” Tom said. “A federal statute has to be written that goes from the top, you know, where the national fraternity is at risk, as well as the local chapter. And then education to high school students.”
If they succeed, their hope is that PUSH never has a new member.
“It’s about legacy,” Dokoupil said.
“Yeah, if we keep his spirit alive, then he’s not dead,” Tom said, getting emotional.
Shortly after Andrew’s death, FSU acted swiftly in temporarily banning Greek life. But FSU president John Thrasher tells us there is still room for improvement.
“I don’t want it to happen again on our campus, and I hope other campuses are paying attention to what we’re doing, because I think — I think we are making progress. But, I will say this: I think Greek life as we know it today has to change — has to change — in order for us to move forward with the positive things that the Greek community does,” Thrasher said.
The Coffeys and all the victims’ families said it’s important for schools to step up and have stricter policies.