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Family sues fraternity at ODU for son's death

NORFOLK — The family of an Old Dominion University student who died after a pledge-week night of excessive drinking with his fellow Alpha Tau Omega recruits is suing the fraternity for $5.35 million.

The lawsuit, filed in Norfolk Circuit Court earlier this month, blames the fraternity for encouraging Terry Stirling to drink until he died on Dec. 1. The suit names the fraternity’s national office and its former chapter at ODU as defendants.

“These fraternities act as a magnet for young people when they begin the college experience, and it is important for them to provide good, solid, healthy environments,” said James C. Lewis, one of the attorneys representing Stirling’s mother and father.

Stirling’s death was clearly a violation of the state’s ban on hazing, Lewis said. But Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney John R. “Jack” Doyle III said that he concluded that “there were no criminal charges that were appropriate.”

Doyle added that he could re-open the investigation if the civil lawsuit produces new evidence.

Stirling, a 19-year-old freshman from Ruckersville, had been drinking with fraternity members and other recruits Nov. 30, university officials said.

An autopsy ruled that Stirling died because he choked on his own vomit, according to the lawsuit.

Dana D. Burnett, ODU’s vice president for student services, said the university is investigating the case.

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