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VCU student Adam Oakes died of alcohol poisoning, medical examiner rules
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VCU student Adam Oakes died of alcohol poisoning, medical examiner rules

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People remembered Adam Oakes, a VCU student who died in February, during a vigil in Monroe Park in March.

Adam Oakes, a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman who was found dead following a fraternity party in February, died of alcohol poisoning, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has determined.

Oakes’ death was caused by ethanol toxicity, said Arkuie Williams, an administrative deputy for the chief medical examiner. Ethanol toxicity is a type of alcohol poisoning. The manner of Oakes’ death was an accident, Williams said.

Oakes, a 19-year-old student from Loudoun County, was found dead Feb. 27 in a house on the 100 block of West Clay Street, the morning after a Delta Chi fraternity party. His family says he was hazed the night before and told to drink a handle of Jack Daniels whiskey, which contains about 40 shots.

Richmond and VCU police are investigating the incident, and no one has been punished for Oakes’ death. A spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department did not provide an update Tuesday afternoon.

Several questions remain unanswered about the manner of Oakes’ death, including his blood-alcohol concentration. Also, partygoers reported that Oakes hit his head on a tree and that his face was discolored when he was found. Williams declined to offer other details.

Adam Oakes, a VCU student who died Feb. 27, is remembered during a vigil in Monroe Park in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Video by Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

No criminal charges have been filed so far related to the death and it remains unclear who specifically provided the alcohol to Oakes, who was too young to buy alcohol.

Courtney White, a cousin to Oakes, said her family was mourning his loss again as if it happened yesterday.

“Even though the results are unsurprising, it does not make it any easier to hear,” she said in a statement. “However, we now have the scientific evidence needed to confirm his death was caused by hazing, specifically the excessive amounts of alcohol the fraternity supplied and pressured him to drink that night at the Delta Chi Big/Little event.

“He had a bright future ahead with dreams of his own. 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.”

VCU suspended Delta Chi immediately after Oakes’ death, and the university hired Dyad Strategies to investigate the school’s Greek culture. A report is due next month.

After years of rules violations, Delta Chi was on the brink of a four-year suspension in the summer of 2018. But the fraternity appealed, and VCU reduced the suspension to one year. In the fall of 2019, Delta Chi returned to campus.

Now Delta Chi is facing expulsion from VCU. Earlier this month, the school’s division of student affairs issued a report recommending Delta Chi be permanently removed if it is found responsible for misconduct.

The university has initiated disciplinary proceedings against the fraternity based on multiple reports that Delta Chi violated university policies in the hours before Oakes’ death, VCU police spokesperson Corey Byers said Tuesday afternoon. By hosting a party with alcohol, Delta Chi broke a rule, because VCU had banned alcohol at fraternity and sorority events during the pandemic.

VCU’s Student Organization Conduct Committee is scheduled to review the fraternity’s behavior, and a judgment is expected this summer.

When Richmond police finish their investigation, VCU will use it to determine how to proceed with student organizations and individuals involved, Byers said. VCU has not received the medical examiner’s report yet, but it will be included in the RPD investigation.

A police department spokesman said detectives are still investigating the case and asked anyone with information to call Major Crimes Detective M. Gouldman at (804) 646-3915.

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Eric Kolenich writes about higher education for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the newspaper in 2009 and spent a decade as a reporter in the Sports section. (804) 649-6109

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