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Family of Adam Oakes pushes to strengthen Virginia hazing laws

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Posted at 5:47 PM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 07:43:54-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The family of Adam Oakes, a VCU freshman who died from alcohol poisoning earlier this year after an off-campus fraternity party, is pushing to strengthen Virginia's laws on hazing.

"Feels like every single one of us has lost a part of us and will never be the same after his death," Oakes' cousin Courtney White said. "It's made us closer. But we'd rather be closer over something else."

Four months since Oakes' death, VCU has expelled the Delta Chi fraternity from the school for violating several policies, including hazing.

While Richmond Police continues its investigation into Oakes' death, White said his family is now pushing to change Virginia's hazing law.

"We realized that for hazing someone to the point of bodily harm, impact or death -- it's only a class one misdemeanor," she said.

Class one misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

"We know that we want to transform it from a class one misdemeanor to a felony," White said.

An online petition to change the penalty to a felony has picked up more than 14,000 signatures.

"The law reacts to events," CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said. "We have other laws that have those tiers, you know. There are some laws that have a misdemeanor version and then if someone's injured seriously or killed, you know, it can become a felony."

Stone said the law could be changed to carry a felony charge for more serious cases.

"If this were to be made a felony, or if there was a felony-level within that statute, then somebody could be sentenced to more than 12 months in jail," Stone said.

White said the family was talking to lawmakers about the change and plan to meet again next month. They hope to help craft legislation to submit in next year's Virginia General Assembly session.

"We hope if we're able to put the law into place where it's a felony that will clear things up, hold people accountable, and also deter them from actually hazing," White said.