VCU, victim's family reach settlement in hazing death

Virginia Commonwealth University will pay nearly $1 million to the family of a young man who died after a 2021 fraternity hazing incident as part of a recent settlement agreement.

The agreement with the family of Adam Oakes also requires the Richmond university to make additional changes to its fraternity and sorority life. The deal was approved Friday by the Fairfax County Circuit Court, VCU announced in a news release.

"This is a blueprint to foster a safer and healthier community for students who are part of fraternities and sororities and to create a climate of respect and inclusion that is needed for academic success," a joint statement from the family and university said.

A police investigation found that Oakes, a 19-year-old who had received a bid to the Delta Chi fraternity, was told to drink a large bottle of whiskey in February 2021. The freshman from Loudoun County was found dead the next morning. The office of the chief medical examiner ruled Oakes’ death was caused by alcohol poisoning. VCU expelled Delta Chi in June 2021.

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"Adam was a beloved son, grandson, nephew, cousin, student and friend. He had a tremendous future ahead of him and his senseless death brought unspeakable pain and tragedy to all who knew him," Friday’s statement said.

In addition to the $995,000 monetary settlement, the agreement will require that VCU students complete 12 credit hours and other eligibility requirements before joining a fraternity or sorority. It will also prohibit alcohol at any activity of any fraternity or sorority attended by new members, and tighten the rules for alcohol served or consumed at student organization functions.

VCU will begin the process of creating a physical memorial to Oakes on campus, and will designate Feb. 27 as an annual hazing prevention day and day of remembrance for Oakes. The settlement also contains a reporting requirement for information about student organizations found to be in violation of the code of conduct.

Delta Chi faced discipline each of its last seven years on campus, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Several former members of the fraternity have pleaded guilty or were found guilty of misdemeanor hazing or misdemeanor serving alcohol to a minor in connection with the case, the newspaper has reported. None has received jail time.