Fraternity Hazing: 2019
At The Doan Law Firm, we maintain an in-house database dedicated to tracking incidents of hazing and other types of deliberate fraternity misconduct. We are happy to report that 2019 saw “only” 93 publicly-acknowledged instances of such conduct, a decrease of just over 20% from the previous year. However, we are disturbed that 9 young men and women lost their lives at fraternity-sponsored events, making this the deadliest year in the decade! In summary, we recorded:
- 93 instances where a fraternity was suspended by its host school
- 9 deaths that occurred during fraternity-sponsored or fraternity-sanctioned events
- 10 lawsuits filed against fraternities or their host schools (9 wrongful death lawsuits and 1 Title IX lawsuit alleging that a school failed to properly investigate a sexual assault case).
In 2019, we located news reports of 93 fraternities that were either suspended by their host schools or were suspended “pending investigation.” Fraternities that were suspended by at least 3 host schools include:
Tau Kappa Epsilon (6): Appalachian State; Cal Poly; Furman; Louisville; Sonoma State; Washington (MO)
Delta Tau Delta (5): Duke; Florida State; Kent State; Miami (OH); Vermont
Sigma Alpha Epsilon (4): Cal State – Irvine; Duke; North Georgia; Rhodes College
Sigma Chi (4): Brown; UCSD; UT-Arlington, Wisconsin-Madison
Theta Chi (3): Georgia, Miami (OH), North Texas
As mentioned above, in 2019 our database recorded 9 deaths that were directly linked to fraternity activities.
At about 9:30 a.m. on January 12th, University of California - Irvine freshman Noah Domingo was found dead at an off-campus residence that was the scene of a Sigma Alpha Epsilon "event" the previous evening.
On the morning of February 4th, the body of 19-year-old University of Vermont freshman Connor Gage was found in a parking lot near the University after Gage had been a visitor to an unnamed fraternity party where alcohol was served.
At about 5:30 p.m. on February 23rd Marlon Jackson was killed in an automobile accident. According to multiple local news sources, the driver had been sleep-deprived as a pledge to Delaware State's chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Caroline Smith, a 20-year-old Furman University student, died on April 6th after an “accidental fall” at a fraternity party held at Hilton Head Island (SC). The party she was attending had been organized by the Furman chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order.
University of Buffalo
Sebastian Serafin-Bazan, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Buffalo, died on April 17th after being taken off life support at Buffalo General Medical Center following an incident during the overnight hours of April 11th and April 12th. According to the Buffalo Police Department, Serafin-Bazan collapsed after being ordered to perform calisthenics at the Sigma Pi off-campus fraternity house.
On the morning of October 26th, 17-year-old John "Jack" Schoenig was found dead at an off-campus residence reported to have been occupied by members of the Penn State chapter of the Chi Phi fraternity. According to the school and the local chapter, Schoenig was not enrolled at Penn State nor was he a member of Chi Phi.
The body of 18-year-old Antonio Tsialas was discovered at the bottom of Fall Creek Gorge on October 26th after a search instituted when he failed to keep a lunch date with his mother the previous afternoon. Tsialas was last seen at around 9:30 on the evening of October 24th after he had attended a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.
San Diego State
On the morning of November 7th, 19-year-old Dylan Hernandez was found unconscious in his bed in a dormitory located on the campus of San Diego State University. According to CNN, Hernandez had attended a fraternity-sponsored event the previous evening.
Washington State University
19-year-old Sam Martinez was found dead at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house on Tuesday November 12th. According to WSU, Martinez’s death appears to have been alcohol-related.
There were at least 10 lawsuits filed against either a fraternity, individual fraternity members and/or host schools in 2019.
28 individual members of Beta Theta PI
The law firm representing the parents of Timothy Piazza announced that they have filed a lawsuit in federal court against 28 individuals who were members of the now-disbanded Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi on the night their son suffered what proved to be fatal injuries during a fraternity hazing ritual. Although they had previously reached an out-of-court settlement with both Penn State and Beta Theta Pi, that lawsuit was filed with a Pennsylvania state court while the current lawsuit is now in the federal court.
On February 24th the parents of Collin Wiant filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ohio University's Epsilon chapter of Sigma Pi and Sigma Pi International alleging that, in the hours before his death on November 12th of last year, Collin suffered physical abuse as well as being forced to consume large amounts of alcohol. According to Athens County (OH) Coroner Dr. Carl Ortman, Collin Wiant's cause of death was "accidental" asphyxiation due to nitrous-oxide ingestion.
In March, a lawsuit was filed an unnamed female student alleging that the Union College chief of staff (Darcy Czajka), associate dean of students (Trish Williams) and Title IX coordinator (Melissa Kelley) deliberately mishandled an investigation into a complaint that she was drugged and raped at an off-campus location by a member of the school's rugby team.
The West Virginia University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was the target of a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed on behalf of David Rusko, a fraternity member who suffered a catastrophic brain injury on November 10, 2018. The suit alleges that after Rusko fell down a stairwell at the fraternity house, his fraternity “brothers” waited two hours before summoning EMS and, during that interim, took “selfies” with the critically-injured Rusko rather than calling for assistance. As a result of that delay, Rusko will require a lifetime of skilled nursing care.
Delawareonline.com reported that Rancel Valdez has filed a lawsuit against two University of Delaware fraternities and four fraternity members (Adam Taylor, Nicholas Poluch, Matthew Vincenti and Daniel Weimar) after he was assaulted at an off-campus party hosted by Phi Gamma Delta and Kappa Sigma. The four men later entered guilty pleas and, according to a University of Delaware spokesperson, Phi Gamma Delta is currently on “deferred suspension” until December of this year and Kappa Sigma has been suspended from campus until at least 2022.
It was reported on September 12th that the parents of Marco Shemwell had filed a lawsuit against the University of Kentucky’s now-disbanded chapter of Alpha Tau Omega, its former member Jacob Heil, its former members in general, and the national headquarters of Alpha Tau Omega after Marco, age 4, was struck and killed by a car driven by Heil after a football game in September of 2018.
Heil, who has been charged with DUI and reckless homicide, was suspended by the school following the accident and the fraternity’s national headquarters ordered the local chapter to disband.
On October 31st USA Today reported that the parents of 20-year-old Alex Beletsis filed a lawsuit against Theta Chi, unreported individual members of the fraternity, and the owner of the residence where Beletsis fell through a bathroom window and suffered severe head and neck injuries after falling 18 feet and striking the ground at a residence that served as the fraternity house of Theta Chi. Beletsis died 18 days later.
On November 13th KETV-TV reported that an unnamed student at Creighton University has filed a lawsuit against “… the national Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, a Nebraska Phi Kappa Psi foundation and an alumni group and some former fraternity officers in the Creighton chapter” after her throat was slashed by a fraternity member who had consumed alcohol and marijuana as part of a fraternity hazing ritual in 2017.
In the lawsuit the plaintiff, who is not identified, alleges that she was injured when she was attacked in her dorm room by Christopher Wheeler. According to the lawsuit, Phi Kappa Psi had been placed on “social probation” the previous year after an investigation revealed alcohol and drug use during a previous fraternity member initiation and "… had Phi Psi and the National Fraternity acted reasonably to address the ongoing hazing, excessive drinking, underage drinking and other misconduct at Phi Psi, (the victim) would not have been violently attacked."
CNN reported that three members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity have been named in a lawsuit alleging that they assaulted another student after mistakenly identifying him as a member of a rival fraternity.
According to the lawsuit Peter Piralla, Kevin Anthony Ayala Jimenez and Josue Jimenez, all members of the Texas State chapter of the Pi Kappa Psi fraternity, attacked Nikolas Panagiotopoulos as he walked past the fraternity house at about 2:30 a.m. on October 27th after mistaking him for a member of another fraternity. The lawsuit alleges that Panagiotopoulos, who was not a member of any fraternity, suffered a skull fracture and a brain injury and that Pi Kappa Psi later posted a video on social media bragging about the incident. Pi Kappa Psi was subsequently suspended while the school investigates the incident.
On December 21st, Riverside (CA) Pulse-Examiner reported that the parents of 20-year-old Tyler Hilliard had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both the local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and its national headquarters alleging that the local fraternity violated California laws against hazing and that Hilliard’s death occurred at the end of a forced “death march” at Mount Rubidoux in the Riverside area.
At The Doan Law Firm, we will continue to monitor the news media for additional reports of fraternity hazing and other misconduct. As we continue our efforts to expose more incidents of such institutionalized reckless conduct, we invite you to contact our fraternity hazing lawyer if your child was injured during a fraternity hazing ritual or organized illegal misbehavior (fraternity hazing is a crime in all but 5 states).
When you contact our firm to arrange a free, strictly confidential review of the facts in your child’s injury case your case review and first consultation with our fraternity hazing lawyer is always free of any charges and does not obligate you in any way to hiring us as your legal counsel. Should you decide that a lawsuit is in order and that you would like for us to represent you in court, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement we will win for you.