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Family of former W&L student files wrongful death lawsuit against university

Family of former W&L student files wrongful death lawsuit against university


The father of a former Washington and Lee University student filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of his son, who killed himself when he was a sophomore.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg and seeks $24 million. The university, two public safety department employees and an associate dean of students are listed as defendants.

A W&L spokeswoman said the university has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

“I’m not able to comment on pending or active litigation, but I can share that the health and wellbeing of our students are of utmost importance to all of us at W&L,” the spokeswoman said.

She said they are reviewing the complaint and will file a response at the appropriate time.

Cade Michael Gold entered Washington and Lee as a freshman in fall 2016 as a member of the football team, according to the lawsuit. Gold played football his freshman year, but opted not to play his sophomore year.

During his sophomore year, the lawsuit states, Gold was showing signs of mental illness but hid them from his parents. At 3 a.m. March 15, 2018, employees with the university’s public safety department responded to a call about a roommate conflict involving Gold.

Director of Public Safety Ethan Kipnes, who is listed as a defendant, described it as a “roommate incident/scuffle.”

A few hours later, a public safety investigator sent Gold an email to schedule an interview about the incident with his roommates. The two met and spoke for about an hour. Gold’s roommates also were interviewed.

Later that day, Gold abruptly left campus and made the four-hour drive to his home in York, Pennsylvania, even though he had classes scheduled the following day. He called his mother from the road about his surprise visit home and told her his class had been canceled. In an email to his professors, Gold said he would be missing class because his grandmother was ill.

Gold searched the internet for how to kill himself, and around 9 p.m. that night contacted a person at the university about his plans to take his own life. Two people, including the person Gold called, told the public safety office about Gold’s plans.

After hearing of his plans, Lt. Charles Hubbard, who is named as a defendant, called Gold and spoke with him for four minutes. Gold told him he was not going to harm himself. Hubbard didn’t ask to speak with Gold’s parents or family members, and he did not ask if Gold had access to any firearms. Hubbard did not contact his parents, who were listed as Gold’s emergency contacts.

Hubbard contacted Kipnes and Megan Hobbs, an associate dean of students, the third defendant, and informed them of the incident. The three decided no further actions were necessary.

Shortly after the call with Hubbard, Gold said goodnight to his parents. After everyone was asleep, he left the house and shot himself, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues the officials from Washington and Lee did not contact Gold’s parents, perform a mental health evaluation, perform a suicide risk assessment or contact authorities in Pennsylvania.

His parents “did not know that Cade had expressed an intention to take his own life that night” and if they had, “they could have prevented Cade’s senseless and tragic death,” the lawsuit states.

Gold’s lawsuit is the second filed by attorney John Fishwick that alleges the university failed to provide proper mental health treatment. Kionte Burnette, who also played football his freshman year, filed a $24 million lawsuit in January claiming a university counselor failed to offer him adequate services when he told her of his plans to kill himself.

Burnette’s lawsuit is still pending, Fishwick said.

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Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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