The University of Kentucky community is searching for answers in the days after an 18-year-old freshman died on the school’s Lexington campus.
The student, identified as Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, was found dead at a fraternity house on campus, and he likely died from alcohol poisoning, according to officials.
Here’s what we know so far:
Status of investigation into UK student death
“Foul play is not suspected” in the case of Hazelwood’s death, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said, “but police are investigating the circumstances of his death.”
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“The UK Police Department was called to the FarmHouse Fraternity at approximately 6:22 pm Monday evening regarding reports of an unresponsive student,” Blanton told The Courier Journal in an email. “The student was taken to UK HealthCare’s Chandler Hospital. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced as deceased early (Monday) evening.”
An initial report from the Fayette County Coroner’s Office said Hazelwood’s cause of death, pending further investigation, is “presumed alcohol toxicity.” His time of death was listed as 7:06 pm Monday, and the manner was listed as an “accident.”
UK President Eli Capilouto and Vice President for Student Success Kirsten Turner also sent the campus community a message Tuesday night about the “tragic loss” of Hazelwood.
“First, two investigations have been launched by the university. UK Police already has begun its investigation and is in the process of interviewing people. UK’s Office of Student Conduct also has begun a review,” the message said. “If you know something or have information about what happened, please call UK Police at (859) 323-8477 (TIPS).”
Once complete, the message added, “both of these investigations will be made public including any findings and recommendations, subject to necessary redactions to protect the privacy of students.”
“But we will understand better what happened and we will communicate with Lofton’s family and our university family,” the message said. “Third, as of today, the University has suspended all activities for the FarmHouse Fraternity while these investigations are ongoing. The focus of the chapter — and of university officials involved in this review — needs to remain fixed on understanding what happened and finding answers. “
The message from the UK leaders also included information on counseling services and other resources for those in need.
“We also can — and we will — commit to finding out what happened, how it happened and why,” the message said. “We have conveyed to Lofton’s family that we will move as quickly as possible, but also transparently and comprehensively. We won’t speculate or engage in conjecture, but we will find out.”
Who was Lofton Hazelwood?
Henderson native Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, 18, was identified by the Fayette County Coroner’s Office as the student who died.
Hazelwood was, the Kentucky Kernel reported, a first-year agricultural economics student at UK. In a statement, his fraternity’s CEO referred to him as a “new member.”
Family members told Lexington media outlets he was the youngest of four siblings and became interested in agriculture after working a summer job on a farm. He was a graduate of Henderson High School, The Gleaner reported, where he played on the golf team.
A funeral is set for noon Saturday at the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Henderson. A visitation is scheduled for 2 to 8 pm Friday.
How has UK responded?
In the aftermath of Hazelwood’s death, university officials have made moves to decrease fraternity activities on campus while the investigations are ongoing.
First, the university announced on Wednesday that all Farmhouse Fraternity activities were suspended. The following day that suspension was expanded.
All activities for new Interfraternity Council members are suspended indefinitely, UK President Eli Capilouto wrote in an email to students Thursday.
Additionally, all IFC members will be required to undergo training that “will increase awareness and education around our students’ responsibilities with respect to critical issues such as hazing, alcohol use and bystander intervention,” Capilouto wrote.
The changes are meant to “ensure the health and well-being of our students,” he said.
The suspension for new members includes “all social, educational and formal interactions between new and returning members of the organization or chapter. This also includes official or unofficial new member events hosted by a chapter,” the email stated.
What is the FarmHouse Fraternity?
The FarmHouse Fraternity is a Greek organization founded by students at the University of Missouri in 1905. It was formed by male students agriculture with the objective of “building the Whole Man through four-fold development: Intellectually, Spiritually, Socially/Morally and Physically .”
The fraternity has been on UK’s campus since 1951, and it’s one of 20 “social fraternities” — organizations governed by the school’s Interfraternity Council — on the campus. Its “house” on the Lexington university’s campus is located at 456 Rose Lane.
FarmHouse has 48 total chapters on campuses in the US and Canada.
Is hazing a problem at the University of Kentucky?
The nature of Hazelwood’s death has raised questions about whether hazing — the abuse of someone in an organization by other members, often as an initiation — is at play.
Hazing is commonly associated with “Greek life” and has been cited in other cases of alcohol-related deaths on college campuses.
UK’s code of conduct defines hazing as “any action or situation created by a member of the University Community against another member of the University Community for the purpose of affiliation with a group or organization that: (a) Is negligent or reckless in nature; ( b) Is humiliating or endangers an individual; or (c) Unreasonably interferes with scholastic or employment activities.”
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The code of conduct cites “Forced consumption of food, alcohol, or drugs or other controlled substances” as an example of hazing behavior.
Individuals cited for hazing can face punishment ranging “from a warning to disciplinary expulsion,” and organizations may face “suspension or restriction from university property or revocation of Registered Student Organization status.”
“Violators of this policy are subject to referral to appropriate law enforcement or University services, as well as to regional and national affiliated offices for groups and organizations, for action or prosecution,” UK’s code of conduct states.
According to publicly available records, 10 student organizations on UK’s campus are currently facing “disciplinary probation” or the “revocation of registered student organization status.” All of those groups are accused of either hazing, “misuse of alcohol” and/or “harm and threat of harm.”
The FarmHouse Fraternity is not listed as facing any disciplinary penalties.
Is drinking a problem at the University of Kentucky?
Hazelwood’s death has also raised questions about alcohol consumption among college students.
According to the school’s most recent Cleary report — a review of crime statistics and safety efforts federally funded universities are legally required to issue each year — three “liquor law arrests” were made on or in close proximity to UK’s main campus in 2020.
Almost 700 “liquor law violations” on or in close proximity to the main campus were “referred for disciplinary action” in 2020, according to the report. That’s down from 2019, which saw 822 instances, but up from the 627 reported in 2018.
Courier Journal reporter Billy Kobin contributed to this story.
Mary Ramsey is a breaking news reporter for The Courier Journal. Reach her at email@example.com, and follow her on Twitter @mcolleen1996. Support strong local journalism in our community by subscribing to The Courier Journal today.