Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood (Photo provided by Tracey Hazelwood)
FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House on Wednesday voted to make hazing that causes a death or serious injury a felony.
Lofton’s Law – named after 18-year-old Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, a University of Kentucky freshman who died from alcohol poisoning at his fraternity house – was approved in the House by a vote of 97-3. The Senate approved the measure on Feb. 23.
Senate Bill 9 establishes penalties for two types of hazing activities. Hazing that results in injury or death is a Class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Reckless participation in hazing is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $500 fine.
The bill applies to students in all public, private and post-secondary schools, in an attempt to “let students know that Kentucky values students’ safety,” according to sponsor Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson.
In the last two years, four Kentucky universities reported 25 incidents of hazing.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday made minor changes before approving the bill by a 15-1 vote.
Tracey and Kirk Hazelwood, Lofton’s parents, were present for the committee and House votes.
Lofton was a freshman when he was found unconscious in Farmhouse Fraternity after drinking approximately 18 shots of bourbon. He later died of alcohol poisoning. Although an investigation by UK found that Hazelwood’s death was not directly related to hazing, his story reflected an issue that plagues universities across the state.
“For far too long, hazing has been this awkward rite of passage in Kentucky that many still refuse to acknowledge was wrong,” Mills told the House committee Wednesday. “We believe the elevation of hazing to a crime addresses head-on the seriousness of these actions.”
Since Lofton’s death on Oct. 18, 2021, the Hazelwoods and their supporters in their hometown of Henderson have campaigned against hazing, educating local students and traveling to Frankfort to testify before lawmakers.
“I was getting a little nervous,” Tracey Hazlewood said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “I’m ready to put an end to worrying about it.”
The Senate must still approve the changes made by the House before the bill goes to Gov. Andy Beshear.
Kentucky would be the 14th state to classify hazing as a felony.
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