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By PAIGE CORNWELL, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE (AP) — In his first semester at Washington State University, Sam Martinez witnessed or took part in several activities that his family says was a pattern of hazing at Alpha Tau Omega (ATO), the fraternity he hoped to join.

Pledges were quizzed on the history of the fraternity and forced to eat raw onions if they answered incorrectly, and taken on camping trips where they were tackled and beat up.

A week before Martinez died, each pledge was handcuffed to a female pledging a sorority and then locked in a room; the key was at the bottom of a vodka bottle the pair had to consume.

On the November 2019 night before Martinez died, he and another student consumed the bulk of a half-gallon of rum, cheered on by members of the fraternity. He became unconscious within two hours, but no one called for medics until 8:30 the next morning.

The details of the Bellevue 19-year-old’s death Nov. 12 and the events leading up to it are outlined in a lawsuit filed Friday by Martinez’s family that alleges WSU, the fraternity, its Pullman chapter and some specific members bear responsibility for his death, The Seattle Times reported.

Martinez, a graduate of Newport High School who loved to play sports and hoped to study business and entrepreneurship at WSU, died of acute alcohol intoxication. His death was classified as an accident by the Whitman County coroner.

Martinez’s parents have tried to get as much information as possible about the circumstances of that night – and advocated for sweeping changes to a system that they say is responsible for their son’s death. The wound is “as fresh and deep as the day police knocked on our door,” his mother, Jolayne Houtz, wrote in a Seattle Times op-ed. She sleeps next to his ashes each night.

“We are speaking up now, at the beginning of the school year, as parents and students are heading back to campus and thinking about the school year ahead,” said the former Seattle Times reporter. “We lost our son and I really can’t bear to think of any other sons or any other children being lost to the same thing.”

Houtz said the lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, is a call for reform in fraternities and colleges that allow fraternities to operate with little oversight. Greek organizations can have benefits, his father, Hector Martinez, said, noting that his son and other students had volunteered by giving out gifts to children just weeks before his death.

“It doesn’t outweigh the terrible risks,” Houtz added. “When you pledge a fraternity, you shouldn’t be pledging your life. We feel like Sam was just pushed to the brink by this ritual and then left to die alone.”

A trial date is scheduled for August 2021, according to Seattle attorney Rebecca Roe, who is representing the family. They are seeking unspecified compensation for economic and noneconomic damages including wrongful death, “pre-death pain and suffering,” fear of impending death and lost earning capacity.

In Pullman, ATO lost its recognition for six years and as part of a suspension agreement admitted to violating WSU’s standards of conduct including hazing, reckless endangerment and providing alcohol to minors.

WSU did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Alpha Tau Omega CEO Wynn Smiley declined to comment, writing in an email that the national organization had not been made aware of the lawsuit.

In January, the WSU Intrafraternity Council developed a nine-point initiative “in an effort to prevent any further tragedy” that included a ban on alcohol at “big-little” events, a requirement that each chapter host an alcohol education course and the creation of a committee dedicated to lobby the Washington Legislature on laws related to hazing and other items that affect the WSU Greek community.

The lawsuit filed by Martinez’s family joins a steady stream of legal allegations against fraternities across the U.S. by pledges or members.

In January, the family of a Cornell University freshman who died after a “Christmas in October” event at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity sued the university and the fraternity, according to the Ithaca Times.

A former University of Arizona student filed a lawsuit in April against the university, Theta Chi fraternity, and chapter leaders after suffering what he claims was a chemical burn in his eye and a blood infection during hazing, according to The Arizona Republic.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Lord & Taylor parent company files for bankruptcy amid coronavirus pandemic

NEW YORK -- Lord & Taylor, one of America's oldest department stores, has filed for bankruptcy, joining a growing list of stores slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of the companies that have filed for Chapter 11 in recent weeks were already struggling, but the forced closure of non-essential stores in March pushed them to the brink.

Lord & Taylor, which was sold to the French rental clothing company Le Tote Inc. last year, filed Sunday for bankruptcy protection in the Eastern Court of Virginia.

In an announcement on its website the company, one of the oldest American department stores, said it was looking for a new owner.

Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Banks, filed for bankruptcy as well.

Like many retailers, Lord & Taylor was already struggling with the shift to online shopping even before the pandemic struck this spring.

Last year, it sold its flagship building on New York's Fifth Avenue after more than a century in the 11-story building.

The company was founded as a dry goods store in 1826.

There are several dozen Lord & Taylor stores across the country including two in the Chicago-area.

Tailored Brands, which filed for Chapter 11 Sunday in the Southern District of Texas, said it would continue to operate Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Banks stores, along with K&G Fashion Superstore and Moores Clothing for Men, which it also owns.

It said in a release that a restructuring plan is expected to reduce the company's funded debt by at least $630 million and provide increased financial flexibility.

As many people have switched to working at home, brands that sell clothes targeted at offices workers have had a particularly hard time. Brooks Brothers and the parent company of Ann Taylor are among those that have also filed for bankruptcy.

As of July 23, roughly 40 retailers, including big and small companies, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so far this year.

That exceeds the number of retail bankruptcies for all of last year. About two dozen of them have sought bankruptcy protection since the pandemic started.

Others include J. Crew, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, Stage Stores, and Ascena Retail Group, which owns Lane Bryant in addition to Ann Taylor.

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