Still no answers in Hipps’ death

CLEMSON — More than a week after his death, investigators are still trying to determine how a Clemson University sophomore ended up dead in Lake Hartwell.

Although Oconee County sheriff Mike Crenshaw said his office’s investigation is continuing, the national office of Sigma Phi Epsilon said its probe into the incident determined hazing was not a factor in the death of Tucker Hipps.

Hipps, 19, was last seen on an early-morning run with Sigma Phi Epsilon pledge brothers on Sept. 22. His body was found later that afternoon in Lake Hartwell near the Highway 93 bridge.

Oconee County coroner Karl Addis said Hipps’ body was found in approximately four to five feet of water and approximately nine feet from the nearest shoreline late. Addis said Hipps died due to a head injury consistent with an unsupported fall.

The fraternity’s statement, released over the weekend, said representatives from the fraternity’s national office spent the week at Clemson exploring the hazing allegations and “worked alongside Clemson officials to review the accounts of students who participated in the morning run where Tucker was last seen.”

Fraternity officials said the information supports reports issued from the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office last week, but Crenshaw said while no evidence of hazing has been supported by the evidence so far, the investigation is not complete.

“We still have not ruled out foul play,” Crenshaw added.

Clemson police released the audio Thursday of a 911 call placed by Hipps’ pledge brother Campbell Starr at around 1:45 p.m. Monday, hours before Hipps’ body was found. In the call, Starr insists the brothers do not want to file a report.

“We’re just calling to see if y’all can help us out a little bit,” Starr told a dispatcher.

Starr told the dispatcher the brothers had been searching for Hipps, who was last seen on an early-morning run, but had not been able to find him, despite retracing their route.

In the wake of Hipps’ death, Clemson officials suspended social activities for all 24 university fraternities last week. According to a Clemson spokesman, there were 15 reports of serious incidents involving fraternities since Aug. 20, including three allegations of sexual misconduct and seven incidents involving alcohol.

“The answer (last Tuesday, when fraternity social activities were suspended) is the first step to address all of the safety issues to make sure student and others are safe,” Clemson spokesman John Gouch said. “What’s going to happen next is students and university administration and student affairs are going to work on plans to ensure safety of the community.”

Hipps’ parents released a statement on Tuesday, thank family, friends and community for their outpouring of love and support “through the most painful days of our lives.”

“We are not sure where we would be without the kind words and generosity of so many people,” Gary and Cindy Hipps said in the statement. “We are encouraged by the compassion and sympathy shown to us by familiar faces and complete strangers. It helps us to know that Tucker touched so many lives in his short 19 years on this Earth.

“Though we have lost our son and best friend, we find some comfort in the stories regarding Tucker’s positive impact on so many people. We can never replace the feeling of loss in our hearts, but knowing Tucker touched so many individuals gives us some relief.

“We would also like to thank the investigators for their hard work. We would ask that everyone please pray for the investigators so they continue their search for answers as to the circumstances surrounding Tucker’s untimely death.”

Crenshaw said last week his office would not release any more information in the case “until such a time as we are able to share with Tucker’s family and the public the results of that investigation.”

“Right now, we do not have a timetable as to when that investigation will be completed or when we will be able to release the facts in the case,” he said. “We hope to do that as soon as possible, but as I mentioned, the investigation is ongoing and we are still following up on leads and information in the case.

“We are still asking anyone that may have been traveling along Highway 93 and the Seneca River Bridge area between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. Monday morning to call the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office if they saw anything at that time.”

If you have any information, contact the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office at (864) 638-4111.