Police recommend charges in WSU frat alcohol poisoning death

Pullman police are recommending misdemeanor charges for seven fraternity members involved in the heavy drinking that led to a 19-year-old Washington State University student’s death by alcohol poisoning.

Police in late January recommended hazing charges for two WSU students, including a frat member who acted as a "big brother" to Samuel Martinez, who died in 2019, The Spokesman-Review reported.

Pullman Police Department officer Jake Opgenorth says police believe the remaining five fraternity members should be charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor. Although Martinez became unconscious after drinking and died about four hours before fraternity members called 911, Opgenorth said investigators didn’t feel there was enough evidence for a prosecutor to prove manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt.

On Nov. 12, 2019, police arrived at the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity and found Martinez, from Bellevue, Washington, dead on the floor, the report said.

The coroner found Martinez, who was from Bellevue, had a blood alcohol content of 0.37 and died from alcohol poisoning, according to the report.

RELATED: WSU student who died at campus fraternity house was a Bellevue native

Through interviews, police learned that Nov. 11 had been "Big/Little Night," an event when older fraternity members called "bigs" for "big brother" join their "littles" in drinking.

Another freshman who shared the same "big brother" as Martinez told police he and Martinez were sharing a half-gallon bottle of rum and that he was "pretty sure" they finished it.

Martinez’s "big brother" told police he never forced Martinez to drink more. He said by 10:30 p.m. Martinez seemed very drunk so he took Martinez to his bedroom and laid him on the couch with a trashcan.

The "big brother" told police that later Martinez asked for more alcohol and he refused, according to the report.

One fraternity member told police that around 11:30 p.m. he saw a group, led by Martinez’s "big brother," carrying Martinez down the stairs to the room where police found him dead, according to the report.

The report said fraternity members took part in other hazing activities that semester. Members said if they failed to memorize certain fraternity-related information, they were forced to drink an unknown mixture, clean disgusting messes and eat onions, the report said.

Opgenorth said police interviewed approximately 75 people and pulled information from cellphone forensics.

Whitman County prosecutor Denis Tracy did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.

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