AUSTIN (KXAN) — The parents of Nicky Cumberland, the University of Texas student who died after a September 2018 car crash, have filed a lawsuit against the Texas Cowboys men’s student organization. They say a night of hazing with the group led to their son’s death.
Michael and Sylvia Cumberland’s lawsuit claims their son’s death in a Houston hospital, nearly a month after the accident, was a wrongful death. And they say the Texas Cowboys’ negligence — in addition to the actions of other former members who are also being sued — are responsible.
Nicky Cumberland was a 21-year-old third-year student at UT Austin, who had joined the Texas Cowboys in the fall of 2018. After attending an off-campus Cowboys retreat, the driver of the car Cumberland was riding in fell asleep at the wheel, crashing the vehicle.
Cumberland was thrown from the vehicle and later died from his injuries.
Since the crash, the Cumberland family has not wavered in its belief that hazing at the retreat played a role in their son’s death. The Texas Cowboys, meanwhile, said they launched their own investigation and say they found that “no alcohol or any form of hazing contributed in any way to the accident.”
The lawsuit states that new initiates were first made to collect items for a “picnic” and then drive to a remote ranch where the event would begin. The Cumberlands say that what transpired at the retreat would include forced binge drinking, wrestling, digging holes, lighting fires, forced marches, forced drinking and severe physical abuse.
Additionally, the lawsuit claims that Nicky and other initiates were subjected to sleep deprivation — which is in violation of UT policy.
In the lawsuit, the Cumberlands say that while the Texas Cowboys appear to be an “upstanding” and “well-respected” organization, “behind the public persona lay a long and unrepentant culture of dangerous hazing and reckless behavior.”
The Cumberlands also point to a previous incident — the death of Gabe Higgins, a UT sophomore, who drowned in the Colorado River after drinking during a Cowboys initiation ceremony in 1995.
After Higgins’ death, the Texas Cowboys group was banned for five years. At the time, UT officials said there was no evidence the pledges were forced to swim in the river, but there was extensive hazing including paddling and eating hot dogs covered with tobacco.
“An event as tragic as the loss of such a young life should have ended the Defendant Cowboys’ dangerous and reckless behavior. Sadly, for Nicky Cumberland, it did not,” the lawsuit reads.
The Cumberlands are suing for damages over $1 million.