Parents issue hazing warning after Sam Martinez’s death at WSU

Sam Martinez’s parents want other families to avoid the same tragedy they suffered.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — The parents of Sam Martinez, the Bellevue teenager who died after a bullying incident at Washington State University (WSU) in 2019, are urging other families to learn from their story.

As thousands of young people in Washington prepare to enter college, Martinez’s mother, Jolayne Houtz, said one of her greatest fears is hearing about another death by haze.

“I’m going to take this so personally if it happens. And I pray that’s not the case. We just can’t afford to lose any of our young people, especially to something as bizarre and medieval as hazing,” Houtz said. “It’s really hard to talk about what happened to Sam, but I couldn’t forgive myself if we hadn’t tried to share our story in a way that could reach someone.”

Martinez joined WSU’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity (ATO) in August 2019.

In November of that year, he attended the sorority’s annual “Big Little Night” party, where new recruits find out who their “big brother” will be throughout college. police files Show Martinez’s big brother provided Martinez and another newbie with half a gallon of rum, which they split between the two — the equivalent of 40 shots. Fraternity members attempted to help Martinez when he became extremely intoxicated by helping him into the basement of the home and, according to police, placing him on a couch with a bucket nearby to vomit.

But no one recognized the signs of alcohol poisoning. Nobody called 911 for help until Martinez was unresponsive in the morning. When first responders arrived, Martinez had died of acute alcohol poisoning.

“I saw him last night coming in here and he was fine. And I woke up this morning and he was just face down and we turned him over,” a fellow student told Pullman police the morning Martinez died. “It’s just a lot. I didn’t think that would ever happen.”

A Pullman Police investigation found that high school students illegally harassed Martinez by encouraging him to drink excessively as part of his membership in ATO.

“He’s the first thing we think about and the last thing we think about before we go to sleep,” Houtz said. “The hole in our lives is palpable, it’s omnipresent and it hurts.”

Martinez’s parents urge other families to do their research before deciding to join a fraternity, sorority, or other campus club.

When Martinez was in school, there was no information on the WSU website or student orientation about a history of bullying in any of the school’s fraternities, including ATO.

“ATO was known to have a terrible track record for disciplinary issues,” Houtz said. “At the highest levels of WSU, they knew this was a troubled chapter and people kept interceding and covering for them and none of it was made public. I didn’t have access. We did not have access to this information.”

“Nothing negative. Everything was light and solid,” said Martinez’s father, Hector. “It was totally covered up.”

Sam’s Law comes into effect

A bill that Houtz and Hector Martinez lobbied for last term, Sam’s Law, officially went into effect on July 1. He requires all colleges in the state to offer bullying training to freshmen. It also requires schools to track incidents of bullying and post them on the school website.

Sam’s Law is to take the cloak of secrecy off the harassment.

“(Now on WSU website) you see the names, the same chapters that keep getting in trouble. That’s a red flag and unfortunately we didn’t have that information, but now parents have access to it,” Houtz said. “That would have been a false start for me. I wouldn’t have wanted Sam to join and I don’t think he would want to join if we had known (the track record of bullying).

“I expect over time it will save lives. I think it will save lives this fall when they start bolting (training). More and more people will understand the dangers[of bullying],” State said Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, who sponsored the bill. Leavitt is vice chair of House College and Workplace Development committee.

“For those who think bullying is just something that gets done and that you can’t influence or change this culture, I would argue that’s not the case. I think the Sams in Washington state; I can name several families who are affected. And it’s a serious situation for these families and these communities and it just really needs to stop.”

The parents did not recognize any signs of cloudiness

In the first few months of Sam Martinez’s affiliation with ATO, his parents recalled him mentioning activities that weren’t then registered as bullying, but now they know otherwise. Martinez told his parents he was tired of waking up early and having to walk across campus from his dorm to the sorority to clean chores with other freshmen. Martinez also told his parents that high schoolers should do “wall sits,” an exercise in which you lean against a wall and assume a seated position.

“And I will regret every day for the rest of my life not seeing the signals,” Houtz said. “They weren’t strong signals, but they were there.”

The police investigation into the death of Martinez revealed widespread cloudiness before the tragedy “Big Little Night”. Detectives found pledges received “various penalties” for failing to adequately perform Brotherhood duties, such as For example, cleaning up after parties or missing answers on Brotherhood history tests.

“New members reported eating onions or biting, drinking some type of concoction as a group, cleaning up gross messes, cleaning up messes with a toothbrush, and doing physical tasks like push-ups and wall-sitting,” a Pullman detective wrote in a narrative co-written connected to the case.

“You were sworn to secrecy. It’s the Brotherhood, and it hurts me that he had to go through that,” Houtz said. “In the end it was just us. There was no one who had (Martinez’s) back. Not the fraternity, not the fraternity and certainly not the WSU. They weren’t our partners. They have not turned their backs on us.”

Pullman police and harassment experts emphasize that “violence” is not necessary for harassment to occur. Even when a person recruited into a fraternity, sports team, or other student group consents to activities such as excessive drinking or physical exercise, bullying still occurs as it may seem necessary to join the group.

Washington State law defines bullying as “any act in the course of the recruitment, initiation, (or) commitment of a person…that is likely to cause physical harm, physical harm, or…emotional harm…regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.” .”

“In many (people) there is a strong need to belong and to belong to this group. So you’re willing to do almost anything to be a part of this organization,” said Pullman Police Commissioner Gary Jenkins. “To be willing to do something that is potentially harmful to you; that is bullying.”

Further laws on intimidation are to be proposed

In the next legislative session, which begins in January, Martinez’s parents and State Rep. Leavitt will again join forces to pass another harassment bill. It would raise the crime of bullying from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. And in cases where bullying results in significant bodily harm or death, the bill provides for criminal charges.

Martinez’s parents hope that awareness and knowledge that any tarnish is dangerous will prevent another death like the one that shattered her life.

“I’m still picking shards of glass from the life I thought we’d lead together,” Houtz said. “All of us as a family. And I feel like there is still so much to do.” Parents issue hazing warning after Sam Martinez’s death at WSU

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