Quick Takes

Lofton’s Law headed for Senate, would make hazing that causes death or serious injury a felony

By: - February 16, 2023 11:47 am

Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood (Photo provided by Tracey Hazelwood)

FRANKFORT — A bill that would make hazing a separate crime in Kentucky and provide prison sentences for hazing that causes injury or death cleared committee Thursday and now awaits a vote by the Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from the mother of Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, 18, who died in 2021 of alcohol poisoning while pledging the Farmhouse Fraternity at the University of Kentucky. “After he got his pledge card, everything changed,” Tracey Hazelwood said.

The fraternity had a tradition of drinking Wild Turkey 101 before going out serenading, she told lawmakers. Instead of going out with his fraternity brothers, Lofton was taken to a room where he was found unconscious about an hour later. “It was just too late,” his mother said.

A UK investigation determined that Lofton had drunk about 18 one-ounce shots of bourbon within 45 minutes. Although no signs of physical coercion were found in connection to his death, UK detailed multiple occurrences of other hazing activities within the fraternity. Interviews revealed that new members were subject to line-ups and berating and expected to provide personal servitude and participate in illegal activities.

Hazelwood and Senate Bill 9 sponsor Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, said that hazing is a form of abuse not adequately covered in current law.

In response to a question from Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, Mills said that the charge of wanton endangerment does not apply specifically to activities that are traditionally part of hazing such as forcing someone to sit on a wall for six hours or to serve upperclass members.

Mills also said that SB 9, known as Lofton’s Law, will serve as a deterrent to hazing. “It lets students know Kentucky values student safety.”

Tracey Hazelwood said, “We beg of you to pass this law because we don’t want anyone else to go through what we went through. Think about being three hours away and you get that phone call.”

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, thanked the Hazelwoods for their efforts to protect young people. “Hazing is a big problem.”

Berg also said, “I have recently learned how hard it is to speak for a dead child.” Her transgender son, Henry Berg-Bousseau, 24, died by suicide in December. He had recently been promoted at the Human Rights Campaign, a nationwide LGBTQ advocacy and lobbying organization.

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