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UT fraternity must pay $16 million in apparent alcohol-related death

A state district judge has issued a $16.2 million judgment to the parents of a University of Texas freshman who died two years ago in what authorities said was an alcohol-related hazing incident.

The national and university chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity must each pay the parents of Marietta, Ga., native Tyler Cross $2.5 million for mental anguish and nearly $81,000 for funeral expenses and other costs, according to Wednesday's court decision.

State District Judge John Dietz issued the order after the national and local branches of the organization failed to respond to a lawsuit by the parents, attorney Robby Alden said. A civil case against the organization's alumni board and housing corporation is pending.

The national and local branch can seek a new trial if attorneys can explain why they did not respond to the suit and can present a defense to the allegations, the Austin American-Statesman reported in its online edition Thursday.

"This is just a terrible tragedy," Alden said. "They want to make sure this never happens again."

Cross fell from the fifth floor of his off-campus dormitory in November 2006. Investigators said he and other pledges were given half-gallon liquor bottles to drink. An autopsy report showed Cross had a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit of .08.

Two former pledge trainers who pleaded no contest to hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors were sentenced four days in jail and given two years of deferred adjudication.

The former president of the school's Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter pleaded no contest and was given one year deferred adjudication.

A fourth member of the organization who pleaded no contest to failure to report hazing received one year of deferred adjudication.

Telephone messages left with officials of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were not immediately returned.