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Judge approves $250K settlement for college student’s death

A judge has approved a $250,000 settlement between Clemson University and the family of a student who died during a fraternity pledge run nearly three years ago.

Judge Robin Stilwell on Aug. 17 approved the deal that Clemson reached with Tucker Hipps’ parents, Cindy and Gary Hipps, earlier this month, court records show. The parents reached a separate settlement with other defendants for an undisclosed amount.

Hipps was a 19-year-old sophomore when he went on an early-morning run as a pledge with the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity in September 2014. Hipps’ body was found in Lake Hartwell beneath a bridge.

No criminal charges have been filed in Hipps’ death, but his parents have called him a victim of hazing. Their wrongful death lawsuit sought at least $25 million from Clemson, the fraternity and three students who they alleged made Tucker walk on a bridge rail and then tried to cover up what happened.

Under the settlement with Clemson, the school promises to create a $50,000 endowment in Hipps’ name for a Boys State camper to attend the university. Hipps was a Boys State counselor. Clemson also agreed to put Hipps’ name on a pew in a planned student chapel and to pursue the possibility of a Hipps memorial golf tournament.

The public university also agreed to educate students and employees on hazing and how to report it.

The settlement provides attorneys $212,000 of the $250,000 from Clemson.

Hipps’ parents and Clemson “tragically lost a son, a friend, and a lifelong Tiger,” reads a Clemson news release approved by the Hipps family and required by the settlement. “Tucker was a talented and much loved young man known for his leadership skills and his warm and friendly nature, which allowed him to easily make friends wherever he went.”

Court records show most of the other settlement’s terms won’t be released.

Non-monetary promises made by the fraternity include inviting Cindy and Gary Hipps to speak at its leadership programs beginning next year and coordinating with them any efforts to renew the fraternity at Clemson.

“Upon return to Clemson University, the new chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon shall serve as a change agent and model for others,” the public portion reads.

A law signed last year by then-Gov. Nikki Haley requires colleges to post fraternity and sorority members’ conduct violations on their websites to publicize the groups’ record before students join.

The “Tucker Hipps Transparency Act” forced all public, four-year colleges to start posting the reports last summer. The reports must be updated at least 45 days before each fall and spring semester.

While debating the bill, legislators applauded Clemson for creating a “conduct reports” webpage after Hipps’ death.

Conduct violations that must be posted include alcohol, drugs, hazing and sexual assaults.

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