ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The family of an Eckerd College student who fell to her death on the morning of her commencement in 2018 has now filed a lawsuit against the college.
According to Dale Swope, the attorney for Rebecca Lavin-Burgher's parents, Rebecca was taking part in a tradition that has been going on for decades in which would-be graduates climb to the top of the Bininger Center for Performing Arts and watch the sunrise the day of graduation.
In a lawsuit filed in October, on May 19, the day before commencement, Rebecca attended several on-campus parties including, "a field party authorized by Eckerd College wherein alcohol was provided."
Swope said at about 4:00 on the morning of graduation, Rebecca and a group of friends went to the theater and found the doors were unlocked, as was the hatch to the roof.
According to Swope, Rebecca was the last to attempt to make a risky climb to the roof, up a long, steep ladder.
"I think that she began her climb up that ladder having no idea about what lay at the top," Swope told FOX 13. "She grabs for the handle, according to the witnesses at the very top. She reaches around and grabs for the handle and there's no handle there."
Rebecca fell 40 feet to the ground. She was rushed to the hospital and died days later on her 22nd birthday.
"They spend graduation day, her birthday, in the ICU of a hospital while she is clinging, unsuccessfully clinging to life," Swope said. "She was absolutely a ray of light in her world and, she was the center of this family."
The lawsuit takes aim at the college for, according to the family's attorney, allowing this tradition to continue despite the dangers.
"It's a ticking time bomb for the safety of the kids," Swope said. "They promised this mom that they would provide a safe place for her child. She sends her child there and they send her back in a box."
Swope also accuses the school of fostering an environment where alcohol and drug use was allowed to occur. In the lawsuit, he points to Princeton Review rankings that have listed Eckerd in the top 5 nationally for "Reefer Madness" and "Lots of Beer."
The family's attorney said Rebecca's parents are hoping for major changes.
"The family understands that all the money in the world is going to undo what's happened and it's definitely never going to bring her daughter back," Swope said. "Things have spun a little bit out of control it seems at Eckerd College and if we don't do something to stop this, who will?"
In a statement to FOX 13, a spokesperson for Eckerd College wrote:
"We have received the lawsuit and read the claims made by the attorneys for the estate of Rebecca Lavin-Burgher on behalf of her grieving family. We take these allegations seriously, and are working with our attorneys to respond to each claim. While there are many errors of fact included in the filing, we will respond in due time during the legal proceedings."