Nearly two dozen members of a Northern Illinois University fraternity were charged with hazing crimes Monday after a student died following excessive drinking at a party last month.
On the night before his death, freshman David Bogenberger went from room to room in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, answering a series of questions in exchange for vodka and other liquor over a two-hour period, authorities said.
It was a part of an annual ritual known as “Parents Night,” an alcohol-infused party in which senior members of the fraternity and associated sororities are assigned as mentors to new members. Bogenberger, a 19-year-old finance major from Palatine, had recently pledged the house in an effort to make friends at his father’s alma mater.
“He wanted to be liked. He wanted to be accepted,” said Peter R. Coladarci, the Bogenberger family attorney. “It’s a classic case of a kid who just wants to fit in with the group.”
Bogenberger’s efforts to fit in proved fatal, as he was found dead in a fraternity house bed the following morning. Subsequent tests ruled his blood-alcohol content was approximately five times the legal limit of .08 at the time of his death, authorities said.
NIU regularly sanctions “Parents Night” parties, but police say fraternity leaders intentionally kept the event a secret from campus officials so they could serve liquor without any oversight. Registered gatherings typically include inspections to ensure university rules are being followed.
The alleged deceit led to criminal charges filed against 22 members of the fraternity, which ceased operation shortly after Bogenberger’s Nov. 2 death.
DeKalb County authorities have charged five fraternity leaders with felony hazing in connection with the incident, authorities said. Seventeen others face misdemeanor charges.
“They knowingly planned this event and did not seek to register it because of the kind of event they were going to provide, because of the amount of alcohol that was to be consumed,” DeKalb Police Department Lt. Jason Leverton said.
Charged with felony hazing are the fraternity’s president, Alexander M. Jandick, 21, of Naperville; vice president James P. Harvey, 21, of DeKalb; pledge adviser Omar Salameh, 21, of DeKalb; secretary Patrick W. Merrill, 19, of DeKalb; and event planner Steven A. Libert, 20, of Naperville, authorities said.
Felony hazing carries a possible prison sentence of 1 to 3 years, though probation is an option. The misdemeanor hazing charge carries a penalty of up to 364 days in jail, with probation as an option.
In a statement released through DeKalb authorities, Bogenberger’s family said they were still grappling with his death and a future without him. They also acknowledged concern for the families of those charged Monday.
“We have no desire for revenge. Rather, we hope that some significant change will come from David’s death,” the statement read. “Alcohol poisoning claims far too many young, healthy lives. We must realize that young people can and do die in hazing rituals. Alcohol-involved hazing and initiation must end.”
One of the fraternity officers called the Bogenberger family in Florida over the weekend to express his regret, Coladarci said. The student — who Coladarci believes was among those charged — gave his account of the evening and acknowledged errors in judgment, the attorney said.
The family believes the charges were necessary in order to prevent future hazing incidents, Coladarci said. He declined to discuss possible punishments, only saying the family is not seeking “an eye for an eye” and does not want to see any “harm” done to those charged.
“These kind of hazing incidents are commonplace on college campuses and I think these kids don’t understand that you can die from it,” he said. “This is a national health epidemic, which must be addressed.”
A spokesman for the Pi Kappa Alpha headquarters in Memphis did not respond to requests for comment.
NIU has placed temporary sanctions against the fraternity, meaning that it cannot operate as a student organization, NIU spokesman Paul Palian said. The fraternity faces disciplinary charges that could lead to permanent sanctions.
NIU also announced disciplinary charges Monday against 31 fraternity members and the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. The charges stem from violations of the student code of conduct regarding hazing and alcohol consumption.
The students were notified of the charges Dec. 7 and will have the opportunity for a disciplinary hearing. The sorority member participants could face disciplinary charges, Palian added.
Penalties include expulsion from school.
“There is evidence of violating the student code of conduct,” Palian said. “The fraternity was found to be involved in hazing. We have a zero tolerance for hazing.”
Palian said he hopes students realize the consequences of hazing and binge drinking.
“I am sure certainly for the university’s student organizations, this is a situation that hits home and hopefully it will be a wake-up call. This is a problem that is a national problem,” he said.
Although Bogenberger’s family declined to talk Monday evening, their lawyer suggested NIU also shares some culpability for the teen’s death.
“Everyone in this milieu has some sort of accountability,” Coladarci said. “The university must know that this goes on and they may have turned a blind eye.”
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Over the past 15 years, hazing has become more violent, sexual and humiliating because students have taken tradition and morphed it into their own version, which has now become lethal, said Dr. Susan Lipkins, a New York-based psychologist who studied the issue for a decade.
Some states, like Illinois, have created a felony charge for hazing, but most only have only misdemeanor charges, Lipkins said.
At least 45 college students have been charged with hazing-related crimes in the past calendar year, she said.
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Dekalb police contacted students charged in the case Monday to notify them that arrest warrants had been issued and to ask them to turn themselves in, Leverton said.
None of them had done so by late Monday, but Leverton said they would give the students a couple days before sending officers to track them down.
“We expect cooperation with that, and we’ve have had, by and large, cooperation throughout the investigation,” Leverton said. “I mean, nobody had an intention of things getting this severe, and nobody had the intention of causing this young man’s death.”
By Matthew Walberg and Stacy St. Clair - Chicago Tribune (MCT) (Tribune reporters Jodi Cohen, Ted Gregory, Melissa Jenco and Jennifer Delgado contributed to this report, as did freelance writer Jack McCarthy.)
©2012 Chicago Tribune
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