School Officials Charged in Student's Drinking Death A prosecutor in New Jersey has brought criminal charges of "aggravated hazing" against five people, including two college administrators, in connection with the death of a student from alcohol poisoning at the Phi Kappa Tau house at Rider University. What makes the case unusual is that neither of the school's officials was present at the fraternity party.
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School Officials Charged in Student's Drinking Death

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School Officials Charged in Student's Drinking Death


School Officials Charged in Student's Drinking Death

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

A prosecutor in New Jersey has brought criminal charges against two college administrators in connection with the death of the student from alcohol poisoning last spring. The two administrators were among five people charged with aggravated hazing at the Phi Kappa Tau house at Rider University in Lawrence Township, New Jersey. The story caught our attention because the two officials were not present at the fraternity house party, where the student, Gary DeVercelly, had been drinking.

Reporter Darryl Isherwood has been following this story for The Times of Trenton and joins me now.

Hello there.

Mr. DARRYL ISHERWOOD (Reporter, The Times of Trenton): Hi. How are you?

LYDEN: I'm fine. Could you please tell us exactly what happened in this case late last March and who was charged?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: Well, what we were told was in March - late March - I guess it was the 28th into the early morning of the 29th, there was a fraternity - Phi Kappa Tau fraternity pledge initiation ceremony of some kind called a big little night, which is a big brother-little brother ceremony. And they drank something called a family drink, which is something the big brother passes down apparently to the little brother. In this case, Gary apparently drank Absolute Citron…

LYDEN: Vodka.

Mr. ISHERWOOD: And we were - vodka, right. And we were told he drank somewhere in the neighborhood of a half to three quarters of a bottle over a very short period of time. Sometime after midnight he lost consciousness. People in the room got worried about him and they called a friend of his to come over and help him out.

Just after 1 a.m. they finally called the paramedics. He went into cardiac arrest at some point and then was revived and brought to a trauma center in Trenton, where he died March 30th.

LYDEN: Now, two of the administrators - the dean of students and the director of Greek Life - both who are among the five people charged here, weren't present at the party. So how does the prosecutor justify charging them?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: Well, the way it's been explained to us - we haven't seen what evidence they have against the two administrators - and this was what they call an investigative grand jury rather than a targeted grand jury. So the prosecutor basically turned over all the evidence they had, all of the interviews, all of the any - pictures, anything they found at the fraternity house, turned it over to the grand jury along with the statute and said go to town. So, apparently, the grand jury found something in that evidence that they thought was compelling enough to charge the two, but we have not seen what evidence they have.

LYDEN: And in your stories for The Times of Trenton, you also talked about a young man named Adriano DiDonato, who's been charged and he is the house manager for the fraternity. Was he at the party?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: Well, we've heard conflicting accounts. He's lawyer told me yesterday that he was not at the party. I guess what the lawyer has said is he was called once Gary was in distress. He was called into the room and then eventually, I guess, he was part of the group that called the paramedics. But he was indicted as a student, but he is also technically an employee of the university.

LYDEN: So you have told us about three of the five people charged. Who are the other two?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: One is the president of the fraternity and one is the pledge master. And I don't know if either of those two people were at the party or if they were charged because of their role in the fraternity.

LYDEN: Both of the people you just mentioned, to be clear, are students.

Mr. ISHERWOOD: Yes. Both are students. Three of the five charged were students and two were administrators.

LYDEN: How has Rider University responded to these charges?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: You know, it's strange. They issued a statement the other day that was very vague. It just briefly mentioned the two administrators and then sort of went on with condolences and things like that and a little bit of explanation of the situation. But it didn't really get into anything. A spokesman for the university told me that they have not seen any evidence that links these two administrators to the hazing event, and there was not evidence to convict them.

LYDEN: What's the penalty for the charge - aggravated hazing?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: Aggravated hazing is a fourth degree offense in New Jersey - it's a felony. And the penalty is up to 18 months in prison and maximum to $10,000 fine.

LYDEN: This must be causing quite a stir in the community. To your knowledge have criminal charges ever been brought against college officials in cases like this?

Mr. ISHERWOOD: I have been told that they have not. And I spoke to the prosecutor, Joe Bocchini, Mercer County prosecutor, one local attorney and one Washington, D.C., attorney who both specialize in this kind of thing, and both said they had never heard of an administrator being charged.

LYDEN: Darryl Isherwood is a reporter for The Times of Trenton and he joined us from his home. Darryl, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Mr. ISHERWOOD: Thank you.

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