VCU freshman Adam Oakes died of ethanol toxicity, a type of alcohol poisoning, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Spokesperson Arkuie Williams stated in an email that the manner of death was accidental.
Oakes was found dead on Feb. 27 at a West Clay Street residence after attending a Delta Chi fraternity event.
Oakes’ family said they believe he was told to drink a handle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey as a part of hazing by the fraternity. Ethanol toxicity results from the ingestion of large amounts of ethanol, usually in the form of alcohol, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Oakes’ cousin, Courtney White, gave a statement to ABC 8 in which she said the results were “unsurprising.”
“At this time, receiving the results feels similar to ripping a Band-Aid off an open wound,” White stated. “We are all mourning his loss again as if it just happened yesterday.”
White stated the family can now confirm that Oakes’ death was caused by hazing because of the chief medical examiner’s conclusions that Oakes died of ethanol toxicity.
“We ask that you not forget my cousin was a 19-year-old kid looking for acceptance and friends,” White stated. “He had an amazing heart, a kind spirit and the absolute best bear hug.”
Oakes, originally from Sterling, Virginia, was a second semester freshman at VCU at the time of his death. He graduated from Potomac Falls High School in Loudoun County in 2020.
“He had a bright future ahead with dreams of his own,” White stated. “Those dreams will never be fulfilled because of one night, one group of boys and one fraternity tradition — but also because of a Greek system that regularly used hazing to control and coerce teenagers, endangering them, and in too many cases, ending in their death.”
According to VCU spokesperson Dedrain Davis, the university has not received a statement from the chief medical examiner. Davis stated in an email that the cause of death will be included in the Richmond Police Department’s investigation, which is ongoing.
“Once that investigation is complete, we will use it to determine what actions to take regarding organizations and individuals involved,” Davis stated.
Oakes’ death was located near VCU’s campus, about seven blocks from the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art.
VCU’s Division of Student Affairs recommended on May 3 for Delta Chi’s permanent expulsion if they are found guilty of misconduct. More information on those processes will be released this summer, Davis stated.
VCU and the national Delta Chi Office suspended the university’s chapter of the fraternity on Feb. 28. The VCU chapter is no longer listed on Delta Chi’s website.
The university issued a four-year ban on the chapter in 2018 after repeated violations, including providing underage students with alcohol, but later lowered the suspension to one year.
On March 2, Senior Vice Provost Charles Klink announced VCU would conduct a review of Greek life following Oakes’ death.
“Simply put, this cannot happen again,” Klink stated. “We will keep our community informed about the review, and its outcomes.”
On March 22, VCU announced the hiring of Dyad Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in fraternities and sororities, to conduct the review. Their standard university assessment includes hazing tolerance and alcohol use, according to their website.
Findings will be announced in June, according to Matthew Lovisa, director of communications and marketing for student affairs.
VCU President Michael Rao stated the review would examine “all major aspects of Greek life,” including:
The roles of advisors in Greek life
Incident reporting process and outcomes
Hazing, alcohol, drugs and sexual violence
Educational, social and philanthropic activities related to the member experience
VCU announced a temporary halt to all Greek life on campus on March 12. The cessation included stopping intake of new members, hosting conversations about community issues, examination of anti-hazing and risk management for new members and the continued ban on all social activities, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cessation also included mandatory training for members of Greek life in hazing, bystander and alcohol training.