AUSTIN (KXAN) — A men’s student service organization at the University of Texas at Austin is at odds Thursday with the family of a student who was killed in after a car crash in Fall 2018.
Nicky Cumberland, a third-year student at UT, joined the Texas Cowboys student organization in fall 2018. On the way home from a Cowboys retreat on Sept. 30, Cumberland was the passenger in a car involved in a wreck. The driver fell asleep at the wheel and Cumberland was ejected from the vehicle, police said. He later died from his injuries.
The Cumberland family believes hazing played a role in their son’s death and asked UT officials to institute specific reforms to prevent hazing and change the culture at the Texas Cowboys. Among their allegations, the Cumberland family says Nicky and other new members of the group were in a setting with lots of alcohol, paddled and forcefully sleep deprived.
REMEMBERING NICKY: Family, friends remember UT student who died after car crash
The Texas Cowboys foreman William Furst issued a statement Thursday on behalf of the student organization, denying the allegations that hazing led to Cumberland’s death.
“No alcohol or any form of hazing contributed in any way to the accident,” he wrote. “At the retreat, no member was forced to stay up, nor were they intentionally deprived of sleep.”
Furst also went on to place blame for Cumberland’s death on the people in the car that crashed. He wrote that student leaders ensured the drivers of the cars headed back to town the morning after the retreat had not been drinking. “Unfortunately, the leadership did not check to ensure that all passengers of those vehicles were wearing seatbelts. The fateful decision of these members to not wear seatbelts that morning haunts us as an organization; we want to make sure others do not make the same mistake.”
While Furst did deny hazing played a part in Nicky Cumberland’s death, he didn’t deny hazing had occurred at the retreat. “Separate from the accident, there were some activities perpetuated by a few individuals that did not reflect the organization which we strive to be,” he wrote. “Those who participated in these events have been suspended or expelled from the Texas Cowboys following a unanimous vote from our judiciary board, comprised of both students and alumni.”
The Cumberland family immediately responded to Furst with a statement of their own. They said they were, “disheartened by the half-truths and missing key information in the statement that diminish The Cowboys’ hazing activities and create an illusion of accountability.”
The family felt the student leaders’ statement failed to address the amount of alcohol that was bought for the event. “The comments on sleep deprivation are subterfuge,” they wrote. “It didn’t save Nicky’s life that some New Men got to sleep. That’s not relevant to his safety or life.”
The Texas Cowboys Alumni Association sent KXAN a statement Monday explaining it had launched its own third-party investigation into what happened as soon as it heard of the accident. That investigation found that neither hazing nor alcohol was “playing any part in the accident.”
However, Eddie Lopez, the president of the Texas Cowboys Board of Directors, said that their organization did learn about behavior on the weekend of the accident that concerned them and that the Texas Cowboy’s judiciary board then took action.
The alumni association noted, “there was misconduct that occurred at the retreat that did not align with the standards of the Texas Cowboys, and was in direct violation both of our values and the University’s policy against hazing.”
The judiciary board in November unanimously decided to suspend three students and expel four students from the Texas Cowboys organization.
The alumni association said it would not go into specifics about why the students were disciplined but added that they will continue to work with UT and allow them to finish their investigations.
“As an organization, The Texas Cowboys Alumni Association and students remains deeply saddened by the loss of Nicky Cumberland,” the statement Monday said. “Our hearts go out to his family, and we support their efforts to ensure that something positive comes from this tragedy.”