Almost a year after 19-year-old fraternity pledge Tucker Hipps was found dead in South Carolina's Lake Hartwell, a witness has come forward to say he or she knows how the sophomore got there. According to a new statement, the unidentified witness says the Clemson student was forced to walk along a narrow bridge railing by three frat members, slipped, grabbed the railing and tried to climb back on the bridge unassisted, but lost his grip and "and fell headfirst into the water below, striking his head on the rocks in the shallow water," the Greenville News reports. Hipps' parents have filed two $25 million lawsuits against Clemson, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and three frat members (one who organized the event and two who were allegedly "deceptive" to police), reports CNN; the parents are seeking to have the witness statement added to the suits.
The witness says the teen was being punished for failing to pick up McDonald's breakfast for the other 29 people taking part in an early-morning run, which the lawsuit describes as a banned hazing ritual. The witness says that after Hipps fell, a frat member shined a flashlight into the water but no one tried to rescue him and they waited seven hours to contact campus police. Police have interviewed the witness but say the new evidence is unlikely to result in criminal charges. Hipps' mother tells CNN that her son was an only child seeking brotherhood in the frat, and though she and her husband had concerns about him joining, she was swayed by the university's praise for the fraternity system and convinced her husband to let him sign up. (Read more Clemson stories.)