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News >  Crime/Public Safety

WSU student died hours before 911 call; chapter holding vigil

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 19, 2019

Sam Martinez, a 19-year-old Washington State University student, was found dead Nov. 12 at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. (Courtesy)
Sam Martinez, a 19-year-old Washington State University student, was found dead Nov. 12 at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. (Courtesy)

The Whitman County Coroner’s Office has determined Washington State University student Sam Martinez died four hours before the first 911 call reporting his condition on Nov. 12.

Martinez, a 19-year-old freshman from Bellevue studying business entrepreneurship, died at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at about 4:30 a.m., according to Coroner Annie Pillers, after what police have said was a fraternity “function” or “party” on Monday night. The first 911 call came around 8:30 a.m. from a fraternity member who reported Martinez was not responsive and people were performing CPR.

“Sam was a beautiful spark of light, a comet that came and went through our lives too quickly,” his family wrote in a statement last week.

WSU spokesman Phil Weiler said the university has no reason to believe anyone hesitated to call 911 and report Martinez’s condition immediately, according to an interview with KHQ.

Investigators have said they suspect alcohol played a role in Martinez’s death and have no indication that other substances were a factor. Pullman Police Department officials said they do not believe hazing, as defined under state law, was involved.

The day of Martinez’s death, WSU’s fraternities and sororities suspended all social events for the remainder of the semester, according to a news release from the university. On Friday, the university temporarily suspended recognition of Alpha Tau Omega pending a school investigation. The fraternity also is listed in a school database as temporarily suspended by the school’s Interfraternity Council and its national organization.

Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity CEO Wynn Smiley said it is standard procedure to temporarily suspend a university chapter during an investigation.

“It was a terrible tragedy,” said Smiley, who anticipated the national headquarters investigation would take a similar amount of time as WSU’s.

Police Cmdr. Jake Opgenorth said investigators have not ruled out potential criminal charges related to the incident, but “Good Samaritan” policies, which under state law offer some protection from prosecution for people seeking medical assistance in good faith for alcohol poisoning, are at play.

Opgenorth declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

Pillers said it will take the coroner’s office at least two months to determine how Martinez died.

The Alpha Tau Omega fraternity held a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening at the chapter’s house.

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