Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)

11 Indicted in VCU Fraternity Pledge's Alcohol Poisoning Death

All are charged with unlawful hazing of a student, and four are also charged with buying and giving alcohol to a minor

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Eight men have been charged with hazing in a Virginia Commonwealth University fraternity pledge's death from alcohol poisoning after a party earlier this year, Richmond police announced Friday.

The eight men arrested Friday range in age from 19 to 22, police said. All are charged with unlawful hazing of a student, and four are also charged with buying and giving alcohol to a minor. Seven were held without bond at the Richmond Justice Center. The eighth was arrested in Prince William County and released on bond. Three others who were indicted are expected to surrender in the coming days, police said.

The indictments come nearly seven months after 19-year-old Adam Oakes of Loudoun County died. The office of the chief medical examiner ruled that his death was caused by alcohol poisoning.

Oakes had received a bid to the Delta Chi fraternity and attended a party where he would receive his “big brother” the night before his death. Oakes was told to drink a 40 ounce bottle of whiskey and later passed out on a couch at an off-campus residence, his family said. He was found dead the next morning.

Richmond police, campus police and the university launched investigations. The chapter was suspended by the university and the fraternity’s national headquarters and in June VCU expelled the fraternity.

Last month, the university announced that it would ban alcohol at fraternity and sorority events, publish misconduct instances online and pause new member recruitment. On the same day, two investigations of university Greek life on campus were released, finding that there are concerns about hazing and binge drinking at the university and staff has struggled to address them.

Oakes’ family expressed their gratitude in a statement, news outlets reported.

“We are grateful for some measure of justice these charges and arrests may produce, as well as the protection from hazing they may give young, impressionable college students,” the statement read. “The past seven months have been agonizing for our family. This is the first time these young men have been held accountable for their historically toxic and destructive traditions, manipulation of the VCU disciplinary systems, and for Adam’s death.”

Oakes was plotting his career course in marketing and mass communication before his death. Ask his family, and they’ll tell you he was a natural. 

“He just had that infectious personality. You know, when you’d walk in the room, he’d greet you with a smile,” his father, Eric Oakes, said. 

After the loss of his only son, Oakes' father is never far from tears. 

“I was worried and he said, ‘Daddy, don’t be worried. Kids look after each other,’” Eric Oakes said. “We’re just happy to see the [justice] process work."

The Oakes family started a foundation called Love Like Adam that reaches out to high schoolers about the dangers of hazing, assaults and drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses. 

“People come and say, ‘I now show Adam’s story to my kids. I now let them listen to what you have to say.' I mean so many people have really come out and they're like, 'You’re saving lives,'" Courtney White, Oakes' cousin, said. 

But there’s also been backlash - criticism from some people who White said didn’t know Oakes, "but are simply judging him by his appearance. I think I'd like to just have them for one second put themselves in Adam’s shoes and really see what he went through that night."

The university has also put changes in place, banning alcohol at Greek events and suspending Delta Chi. The fraternity's national office calls the alleged actions of those charged “an affront to the values of Delta Chi.”

Meanwhile, the Oakes family knows they’re up against years of entrenched tradition with hazing among the Greeks and beyond. 

“[It's] not just fraternities or sororities. I mean it’s in band, it’s in athletics. It's everywhere and it needs to stop. I mean it's 2021, it's ridiculous,” Eric Oakes said.

The Oakes family also said they want universities to make information about hazing and other offenses against fraternities and sororities publicly available.

The university also released a statement after the arrests.

“VCU continues to mourn the tragic death of Adam Oakes and is grateful to the Richmond Police Department for its investigation,” the statement said. “VCU is dedicated to continuing its efforts, announced this summer, to promote a safe and welcoming fraternity and sorority life culture for all.”

NBC Washington/Associated Press
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