Lawyer in NIU student's death may broaden hazing case
(MCT) — An attorney for the family of a Northern Illinois University freshman who died after a pledge party earlier this school year said Tuesday that he may add students as defendants in a lawsuit against the fraternity and its members.
The wrongful death suit, filed last week, names the fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, and the 22 fraternity members who also face criminal charges related to the death of 19-year-old David Bogenberger.
Cook County Judge Randye Kogan granted a request Tuesday that allows the family's lawyer to immediately subpoena police and prosecutors for copies of their investigative files, which could reveal who else attended the party.
The attorney, Peter Coladarci, said he wants to see the reports to decide if anyone else — including sorority members in attendance — should be held accountable for the death of Bogenberger, who was pledging the fraternity when he died. He also hopes the reports will provide the students' campus or home addresses so he can issue them summonses. The criminal complaint lists only the address of the fraternity, which is now closed, he said.
"We know there were 45 individuals at the fraternity house the night it happened," Coladarci said. "I have to make a judgment whether or not they are culpable as well."
The civil lawsuit alleges that fraternity members made Bogenberger drink dangerous amounts of alcohol during a two-hour pledge initiation party Nov. 1, then failed to get help when he became unconscious. Bogenberger was found dead in the fraternity house the following day. Bogenberger, a triplet who graduated from Palatine High School, had a blood alcohol level as high as 0.43 — more than five times the legal limit for drinking, Coladarci said.
"You don't get somebody that drunk and then put him in a room and close the door," he said after the hearing. Coladarci said he plans to ask the students whether attendance at the event was mandatory and whether there were any safety plans in place.
He said he hopes the lawsuit is a wake-up call to other students about the dangers of excessive drinking and hazing.
"(Bogenberger) wanted to belong. He wanted to be part of the fraternity. He had no idea you could die from this," Coladarci said. "We hope to make people think about it in the future."
The lawsuit also alleges that the fraternity's national organization failed to ensure that its chapters were warned about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and did not do enough to ensure the NIU chapter was following anti-hazing policies.
The Memphis, Tenn.-based fraternity said in a statement that it educates members on such topics through its website, anti-hazing programs and educational conferences. It suspended the NIU chapter after Bogenberger's death.
"The International Fraternity does not manage or control the day-to-day activities of the affiliated chapters nor their adult members," Pi Kappa Alpha Executive Vice President Justin Buck said in statement. "However, it has and will continue to provide resources and education on alcohol abuse and hazing."
The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
Five student officers of the fraternity have been charged with felony hazing violations, and 17 others face misdemeanor counts stemming from Bogenberger's death.
In addition to criminal and civil charges, dozens of NIU students face disciplinary sanctions for allegedly violating university rules related to hazing and alcohol. The penalties range from attending mandatory educational programs to suspension or expulsion.