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- HAZING DEATH LEADS TO CHARGES AGAINST FIVE, INCLUDING TWO RIDER UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS
Newsletter > September 2007 > "HAZING DEATH LEADS TO CHARGES AGAINST FIVE, INCLUDING TWO RIDER UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS"
HAZING DEATH LEADS TO CHARGES AGAINST FIVE, INCLUDING TWO RIDER UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS
Daniel McCarthy, Manley Burke
Gary DeVercelly, an 18-year-old freshman at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey died on March 30, 2007 after attempting to drink an entire bottle of vodka at a “big-little night” event at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house. It was later determined that Mr. DeVercelly had a blood-alcohol content of 0.426, more than five times the legal limit in New Jersey.
Shortly after Mr. DeVercelly died, an assistant Mercer County prosecutor told the New York Times that “everything was on the table” for possible criminal charges. On August 3rd, the prosecutor, Joseph L. Bocchini Jr., announced indictments against five individuals following a grand-injury investigation into the death. Surprisingly, two Rider administrators, Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley, were among those indicted for aggravated hazing. The other three indictments are against fraternity officers: Adriano DiDonato, the residence director and house master; Dominic Olsen, the head of the pledge program; and Michael Tourney, the chapter president.
In New Jersey, a person is guilty of aggravated hazing “if, in connection with initiation of applicants to or members of a student or fraternal organization, he knowingly or recklessly organizes, promotes, facilitates or engages in any conduct, other than competitive athletic events, which places or may place another person in danger of bodily injury.”1 Aggravated hazing is a crime in the fourth degree, punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment or up to a $10,000 fine.
“The ramifications of this for colleges and universities in New Jersey, and across the country, is that it will send some kind of message that the standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully,” the Prosecutor told the Associated Press.
The University is not directly commenting on the charges, but Rider President Mordechai Rozanski issued a statement on the University’s webpage that expressed sympathy to Mr. DeVercelly’s family and stated “[w]ith respect to the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, the facts uncovered during the investigation indicate that dangerous underage drinking occurred at an unregistered party in the fraternity house, resulting in the death of a student. Consequently, we have dissolved the Phi Kappa Tau chapter on our campus.”
According to the Associated Press, Rider is still deciding what action, if any, to take against the administrators. The AP quoted Jonathan Meer, a Rider spokesperson, as saying “It’s our practice to judge each case on the facts and circumstances as they become known.”
Douglas Fierberg, an attorney retained by Mr. DeVercelly’s parents, told the Times of Trenton that the Rider officials did not adequately supervise campus fraternity houses and held them to far lower standards than other university residence halls. Mr. Fierberg specifically pointed to the fact that Adriano DiDonato, the house manager, was a part time University employee in charge of the fraternity house with similar tasks as a resident advisor. Mr. Fierberg told the Times that Rider failed to adequately train Mr. DiDonato and supervise the fraternity.
As the charges in this case were just filed, it is not clear how this case will conclude. It is difficult to envision how the prosecution will be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the administrators “knowingly or recklessly organized, promoted, facilitated or engaged in conduct which resulted in serious bodily injury.” However, it is clear that prosecutors across the country are looking for new ways to curb the twin dangers of hazing and alcohol abuse on college campuses. This case serves another warning to all involved with Greek organizations that such abuses must stop.
1 N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:40-3 (West 2007)