As graduation season approaches, we remember that Andrew Coffey would have graduated this May. Instead, in November 2017 he was pressured into drinking an entire bottle of 101-proof Wild Turkey bourbon and left to die on a couch surrounded by 'friends' and 'brothers.' What's perhaps most disturbing about fraternity culture is this: after he was totally abandoned and left alone in a room to die without any help, when his body was found hours later, it still took 11 minutes for the person who found him to call an ambulance. The person who stumbled upon Andrew’s body thought it was more important to call his fraternity brothers before calling for help.
According to call records, that 11 minutes was spent arguing about what to do. Of course, that's not really the question they were asking; any child knows that if someone needs emergency help, you call 911.
What they were really asking was, "If I call for help, will I get in trouble?"
"We're Doing This for All the Other Kids"
Earlier this month, we reported that David Bianchi from our law firm testified before the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee alongside Tom and Sandy Coffey, Andrew's parents. We were there to make clear the devastation that hazing can cause and to propose changes to the current anti-hazing statute, more commonly known as the Chad Meredith Act.
Our amendments to the Chad Meredith Act would help prevent this sort of delay by offering immunity from hazing prosecution to the first person who calls 911 in a medical emergency caused by hazing. Offering immunity for the first 911 caller would eliminate time spent asking "What will happen to me? Will I get in trouble?" The proposals would also incentivize cooperation with investigators, preventing situations where entire fraternities recite the same story from a script to protect themselves.
Alongside Andrew Coffey’s parents, we're making the sort of changes that will make our campuses safer.
During her testimony, Sandy Coffey stated that she should have been coming to Tallahassee to see her son graduate, but instead his death brought her to the Capitol. "If one of the kids from the party that night—there were 90 kids there—if just one of them would have picked up the phone when they saw that Andrew needed some help, he'd still be here," Sandy said. "We're doing this for all the other kids," Tom said as he held back tears.
"We never, never, never want to see this repeated again."
Bipartisan Support in Tallahassee
Representative Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point) is sponsoring HB 727, which contains all the amendments proposed by David Bianchi and the Coffeys. He's hoping that this law will make students more comfortable with speaking to emergency services sooner when they see that someone needs help. Senator Lauren Book (D-Plantation), the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, believes laws like this would have saved Andrew's life.
"When you look at the circumstances of that night, you had a bunch of college kids who were too scared to do anything, but under the new rules of this bill, they wouldn't have to be," she said in a recent NBC2 News report. She also believes in the bill's other major provision: holding recruiters and planners for hazing events accountable, regardless of whether they attend those events.
The bill has received unanimous support so far; the Senate and House Criminal Justice Committees, the House Higher Education & Career Readiness Committee, and the Senate Education Committee have all unanimously passed the bill, and it has moved on to other committees enroute to the full House and Senate for final passage.
As a state with a rich and diverse population of college students, it's our duty to create laws that keep campuses safe and end the culture of secrecy around fraternity hazing. The Chad Meredith Act that David Bianchi helped write years ago pioneered the way in 2002, but now it's time to continue our work for the next generation of students. “We are making a good law even better,” Bianchi said.
We look forward to seeing our bill progress closer to becoming law in Florida.