The mother of an East Carolina University student who died in a single-car wreck at the end of a sorority “Hell Week” has filed a wrongful death suit against the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority with claims that hazing played a role in the fatal incident.
Raleigh resident Bernadette Carter has accused the sorority’s national office, its ECU chapter and members there of depriving the 2010 pledges of sleep and forcing them to engage in demeaning activities – factors that led to the death of her daughter, Victoria T’nya-Ann Carter.
Carter, 20, was one of two ECU students who died on Nov. 20, 2010, when the car they were riding in careened off a Greenville road and slammed into a tree.
Kamil Arrington, a sorority pledge from Nash County, was driving the Toyota Yaris at 6:30 a.m.
The Delta big sisters had selected Arrington as a designated driver who would ferry the pledges to practices, pre-dawn hair appointments and other engagements, according to Carter’s lawsuit that was amended in Nash County on Monday.
Carter was in the backseat on the right side of the car. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Briana Gather, 20, of Kernersville died the next day. A fourth student, 19-year-old Taylor King of Greenville, survived the crash.
Arrington, who pleaded guilty last year to two counts of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, was suffering from “excessive and overwhelming fatigue, exhaustion and sleep deprivation,” according to the lawsuit, and “fell asleep behind the wheel.”
John McCabe, the Cary lawyer representing Carter’s mother, said Tuesday that his client initially sought his help because she wanted to know what happened to her daughter.
Officials at East Carolina University conducted an investigation after the incident, and according to Mary Schulken, a spokeswoman for the campus, had difficulty getting information from sorority members.
Because of that, Schulken said, ECU put the sorority on a two-year probation immediately. The national organization further investigated the incident and suspended the ECU chapter until at least 2015.
The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was founded in 1913 by 22 women at Howard University. The Kappa Sigma chapter of the sorority was founded at ECU in 1973.
Carter filed a wrongful death suit against the driver of the car and amended it this week to add sorority members to the list of defendants.
The Carter family is seeking damages, according to McCabe, but they have another mission, too.
“There’s no amount of money that’s going to bring their daughter back,” McCabe said. “What they really want to do is change the culture.”
The hazing activities, according to the suit, culminated in Delta’s “Hell Week,” which was the last week of pledging.
As part of the initiation process, 17 pledges had been forced to live together in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment and engage in other forms of hazing, too.
Among the hazing exercises were the “Delta TV,” in which the pledges were forced to get into and hold a push-up position. They were required to do “wall sits” in which they had to push their backs against the wall, then slide down until they were in a sitting position and maintain that stance for a lengthy time.
They did the “Delta Chair” – standing on one leg – and held heavy bricks over their heads, subject the entire time to ridicule and humiliation from the Big Sisters.
The pledges were forced to wear “Delta Lipstick,” hot sauce rubbed on their lips, and to down a “Delta Apple,” a large raw onion, as well as eat large amounts of cottage cheese and drink buttermilk.
They were required to style their hair a specific way and wear clothes of a certain style.
The pledges were required to put in long hours preparing for “probate,” a ceremony in which the sorority makes a public showing of its new members.
The night and morning hours before the fatal wreck, the pledges had been practicing and perfecting the “probate death march,” according to the suit.
The pledges were forced by Delta big sisters, Delta advisers and alumni to “practice the march over and over again until they ‘got it right,’ ” according to the suit.
In preparation for the induction ceremony and probate, according to the suit, the Delta big sisters arranged hair appointments for Arrington, Carter and two other pledges at 6:30 a.m.
The pledges did not have an opportunity to sleep after the practices for the probate death march, according to the suit. Nor had they been able to sleep much with 17 pledges in one apartment.
It was that sleep deprivation that Carter contends led to the death of her daughter.