Mom of Rutgers student hit by train after frat party sues school, fraternity for wrongful death

Mom of Rutgers student hit by train after frat party sues school, fraternity for wrongful death

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – The mother of a Rutgers University student who was struck and killed by an Amtrak train after becoming intoxicated at a fraternity party has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, its police department and the fraternity.

Claudia Patterson, the mother of Kenneth Patterson, a freshman who attended a Christmas party at Theta Delta Chi on Dec. 9, 2017 before he was killed by the train, filed the suit Dec. 6, 2019 in Middlesex County Superior Court.

“We cannot comment on pending litigation,” university spokesman Neil Buccino said. “The university was deeply saddened by the death of Kenneth Patterson and offered our condolences to his family and counseling services to our students affected by this tragic loss. The university actively cooperated with the Amtrak Police Department in its investigation into his death.”

Previously: Rutgers student death leaves mom with questions

Rockaway Township mom Claudia Patterson looks for answers after her son, Kenneth Patterson, was hit by an Amtrak train on Dec. 9, 2017. (Photo: Courtesy of Claudia Patterson, Submit)

Rutgers and the fraternity have not filed official responses to the suit in court.

A member of the Rutgers Club Lacrosse team, Patterson was invited to TDXmas, a party at the Huntington Street fraternity, which, the lawsuit states, “was on a cease and desist order and was prohibited from sponsoring and/or hosting any fraternity-related events.”

The suit does not state why the fraternity was subject to the disciplinary action.

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The suit alleges that the university and its police department “knew or should have known about the unsanctioned fraternity event and service on intoxicating alcohol to underage persons, and otherwise negligently, carelessly and recklessly failed to implement and/or enforce proper and effective policies and procedures regarding security, public safety, supervision of events and activities on … the university campus.”

The suit also alleges the fraternity “negligently, carelessly and recklessly served intoxicating alcohol to … a minor under the legal age for consumption of alcohol to the point of intoxication, and was otherwise careless, negligent and reckless in protecting Kenneth J. Patterson from harm.”

Rutgers University student Troy Sweeney was talking and texting Kenneth Patterson just before he was killed on Dec. 9. (Photo: Courtesy of Troy Sweeney, Submit)

Struck and killed by the train near the Jersey Avenue station in New Brunswick, more than 2 miles from campus, Patterson had gotten lost trying to find his dorm, based on text messages with friends and their previously reported comments. The fraternity was only a half mile from his dorm.

It was a “ridiculously far walk” from their campus dorm, said Troy Sweeney, a friend and classmate who was on the phone with Patterson moments before his death trying to help him find his way back home.

According to a New Brunswick police report, a conductor on the Amtrak train, Shawn Savage, 45, told police he saw Patterson “crossing over the tracks. He then tripped on one of the tracks causing him to fall.” 

At the time of Patterson’s death, Amtrak, Rutgers University police and New Brunswick police said they were investigating. Still trying to find answers, Claudia Patterson and her son’s friends launched #JusticeforKJP social media campaign a year later.

Both Patterson and her attorney, Joseph T. Delgado, declined to comment on the case. But nearly a year ago, the mother told NorthJersey.com, “We need answers.” And last Mother’s Day, she posted a video pleading for information about her son’s death and disputing claims of suicide. 

Kenneth Patterson is also survived by his father, Brian T. Patterson and several siblings, the suit states.  

Theta Delta Chi is the 11th oldest fraternity in the country. The central fraternity office did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Bob Makin via email at bmakin@gannettnj.com

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