Parents sue USU over son's alcohol poisoning death

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LOGAN -- The parents of a Utah State University student who died last fall after drinking vodka at a fraternity party filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university.

George and Jane Starks are suing Utah State University because they believe the school contributed to their son's death through neglect.

Their attorney claims that if USU had taken steps to monitor, discipline, and suspend students for the type of behavior displayed in the Greek system, the fraternity Sigma Nu would not have even existed at the school by the time 18-year-old Michael Starks got there.

The suit says that Michael and his parents, along with other incoming students, were unaware of the "actual character" of Sigma Nu.

In an interview done earlier this year with George Starks, he said had he known the history of the fraternity, he never would have allowed his son to pledge.

"It seems to me, if they'd exert more authority over the situation, that they're capable of, this probably wouldn't have happened," George Starks said at the time.

While participating in Rush Week last fall, Michael Starks was bound with cords, taken to a house, and forced to drink alcohol. It was later found that he consumed more than four times the legal limit of alcohol.

The lawsuit alleges USU has been familiar with the "traditional events" associated with Rush Week for years and did nothing to stop it.

The couple is seeking an undisclosed amount of money to help them recoup medical and funeral costs. They also want money they believe their son was entitled to before his death.

USU spokesman John DeVilbiss says the school is sympathetic to the Starks family but doesn't agree with the suit. He told the Deseret News, "Any suggestion that the university would knowingly encourage or allow such a thing is incorrect. The safety and well being of all of our students are a primary concern. We take issue, however, regarding the university's responsibility to students participating in off-campus, non-university activities."

Twelve USU students were charged with hazing in connection with the incident. Charges against all but five defendants have been dismissed.

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