‘My dream, his dream, cut short’: Parents of son killed in hazing incident applaud ‘Sam’s Law’

Mar 7, 2022, 4:43 PM | Updated: Mar 8, 2022, 8:01 am
Sam Martinez, second from the left, with his family. (Credit: Jolayne Houtz)
(Credit: Jolayne Houtz)

For a roughly 60-year period ending in 2019, at least one U.S. school, organization, or club has reported a hazing death annually. That final year marked the death of Sam Martinez, a 19-year old freshman at Washington State University. His namesake and story endure in a statewide effort to end hazing deaths.

“Coming to this country, I was looking for my son to go to college and graduate,” Sam’s father, Hector Martinez, told KIRO Newsradio. “That was my dream, especially for him, and it was cut short. When I saw [this law] passing, I was just like, ‘now there’s gonna be more transparency.’”

House Bill 1751 was approved by both chambers in the state Legislature last week, but is awaiting final passage to resolve an amendment to officially name it “Sam’s Law.” The legislation follows a similar push in the 90s to criminalize college hazing. The more current legislation expands the definition of hazing, requires public and private schools to publicly report incidents of hazing, legally mandates employees of the school to report hazing, and orders that schools provide education to students on the dangers of hazing.

Fraternity pledge’s death a year ago spurs changes in hazing

“We really believe that this law is going to save lives. … It is shining a light on what has been hidden up until now from new students and from their families in terms of the disciplinary track record in the history of Greek organizations, but also other clubs and student groups and athletic teams,” said Jolayne Houtz, Sam’s mother.

Documented cases of collegiate hazing date back to the 1830s. John Butler Groves died in a hazing incident in 1838 at Franklin Seminary in Kentucky, according to Hank Nuwer, a journalist who collects all U.S. reported deaths of hazing and compiles the information in a public database.

“Fraternities have proven over and over again that they are not capable of ending hazing on their own,” Houtz continued. “If you look through [Nuwer’s database], it’s just picture after picture of mostly young men, some women, who have been hazed to death. These people who are 18, 19, 20 years old — on the cusp of the rest of their lives, with so much to offer — are stamped out by hazing.”

A second, similar bill would have updated Washington law to treat hazing as a felony charge. That failed to make its way out of committee before the Legislature’s cut-off date, although the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mari Leavitt, has publicly signaled interest in bringing it back in the next session.

“Since he died, I can’t even tell you how many people have reached out to us whom I didn’t know he knew,” Houtz added.

“The ripple effect of his death in the community has been incredible,” she said. “I think he would be proud to have his name on this. He cared so much for his peers. And the idea that we might save one life for the one that was taken from us gives us some solace. I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor our son’s memory.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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‘My dream, his dream, cut short’: Parents of son killed in hazing incident applaud ‘Sam’s Law’