The University remains tight-lipped about the details surrounding College senior Tom Hartford’s death over a month ago.
Early in the morning on Jan. 10, Hartford’s father received a call that his son was in the hospital. He had been found earlier lying in a pool of blood on concrete just outside the Sigma Phi Epsilon house located at 4028 Walnut Street. After a two week-long coma, Hartford was taken off of life support early in the morning on Jan. 23.
The death was ruled an accident, according to Vice President for University Communications Stephen MacCarthy. The University declined to release the full results of an investigation, and the Division of Public Safety deferred all comment on the incident to MacCarthy. Philadelphia Health Department spokesperson Jeff Moran listed the official cause of death as “Accident — blunt impact head injuries.” Hartford’s father said doctors told him that his son’s injuries were consistent with a fall of about 15 to 20 feet.
So far, there have not been legal ramifications from the incident. The day of Hartford’s death, his father — also named Tom Hartford — told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he has no plans to sue, and stands by this decision unless medical expenses are exorbitantly high.
However, Hartford’s father is not entirely satisfied with the University’s handling of the incident. After the family left Philadelphia on Jan. 23, Hartford’s father said that he received no further communication from the University or the Medical Examiner’s Office, aside from a letter from Penn President Amy Gutmann expressing her condolences.
He said while University officials mentioned potentially organizing a memorial service for Hartford, they never followed up with him. So far, no vigil for Hartford has been held at Penn. Memorial services at the University have been held after other student deaths, such as last month’s for Nursing junior Arya Singh, one held in 2011 for then Wharton and Nursing senior Jeffrey Lee and one held in 2010 for then Wharton junior Owen Thomas.
“If they had a memorial service, I’d be in the front row,” Hartford’s father said.
While he was generally disappointed with the University’s lack of transparency with both him and the media, he commended the SigEp brothers for being “nothing but fantastic.”
“I just feel that the students should be aware and their parents should maybe be aware that there are problems going on,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen again to anybody. So they should be more forthcoming about what’s going on.”
The Daily Pennsylvanian’s investigation of the incident has revealed limited results, with multiple sources continuing to decline comment on many issues surrounding the incident.
The Office of University Communications and the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life have declined to comment on whether the University and SigEp ever had a conversation about cancelling rush. In 2010, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life canceled spring rush for Phi Kappa Sigma — commonly known as Skulls— after an incident leading to the death of an unaffiliated guest, former John Carroll University student Matthew Crozier, at a New Years’ party at the chapter house. MacCarthy said that SigEp decided “as a house” to postpone one event, but did not comment on whether they considered cancelling an entire season of rush.
OFSL consistently deferred comment to VPUL on all issues related to the incident, including clarifications about Hartford’s status as an active member in the fraternity.
In a statement, national SigEp Executive Director Brian Warren said, “Hartford was a former member of the Fraternity’s Pennsylvania Delta chapter. While he was no longer affiliated with the chapter, he remained close with many of the undergraduate members.”
As of the afternoon of his death, Hartford’s name was listed underneath the chapter’s composite photo for 2012. The next day, his name had been removed. His photo was not included in the composites at either time.
The DP also asked the University, as well as the national SigEp office, about the date and results of the last inspection of the chapter house. In the Skulls case, Crozier’s family sued both the University and the fraternity. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the fraternity did not upgrade the railing that Crozier fell over. Skulls and the University settled the lawsuit with the family before it went to trial.
Both SigEp nationals and MacCarthy declined to specify either the date of the last inspection or the results of the inspection, referring the DP to an earlier statement released by Executive Director for VPUL Facilities Thomas Hauber. The statement said the chapter house is University-owned, and that University-owned houses are inspected monthly.
The national office also declined to explain their housing policies and whether they apply to the chapter house at Penn. In response to multiple questions about housing policies and potential legal implications of the incident, the fraternity released a one sentence statement attributed to Warren: “Sigma Phi Epsilon’s housing requirements and policies apply to those properties it owns and manages.”
Penn’s chapter of the fraternity has declined to comment since the incident until recently, when chapter president and Wharton senior Greg Chianetta agreed to prepare a statement in response to questions from the DP. However, after he was notified by the national office that the DP had also contacted them for information, he declined to answer any further questions.
Shortly before the DP received the national office’s statement, Chianetta said, “There is little more that I can provide you at this time.”
Anyone who has comment or information should contact authors Alex Zimmermann at (301) 520-2700 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Spencer Small at (717) 951-3999 or email@example.com.