Father of NIU student who died wants more done to combat hazing
Gary Bogenberger doesn't expect his grief will end if the criminal cases are resolved Friday against the 22 young adults charged with hazing in the alcohol-related death of his son David.
What he hopes for is an end to fraternity events like the "Moms and Dads Night" initiation party that authorities say took place Nov. 1, 2012, at the Pi Kappa Alpha house at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where David was a freshman.
David, a triplet and Palatine High School graduate, died after authorities say fraternity members pushed him and other pledges to drink large amounts of vodka within 90 minutes. He was found unresponsive at the frat house the following morning with a blood alcohol reading of 0.351 percent, more than four times the legal driving limit of .08, authorities said.
Five fraternity officers were subsequently charged with felony and misdemeanor hazing: James Harvey, 23, of Northfield; Alexander Jandick, 23, of Naperville; Steven Libert, 23, of Naperville; Patrick Merrill, 22, of Boston, Mass.; and Omar Salameh, 24, of Burbank. Seventeen other students face misdemeanor charges.
Gary Bogenberger and his wife, Ruth, have since moved to Florida. They will return for Friday's court hearing in Sycamore, where they and authorities expect at least some of the defendants to enter guilty pleas.
Defense attorneys for the five students facing felony charges either declined to comment or did not respond to Daily Herald interview requests.
Even if the cases are resolved, it won't be the end of the ordeal for the Bogenbergers, and they hope it won't be for those who were charged.
"I hope this is something that will haunt (them) for the rest of their lives," said Bogenberger, who claims in a lawsuit that the fraternity members and pledge "moms" -- women from various sororities -- did not have to drink alcohol themselves but pushed and berated the pledges into drinking dangerous amounts of vodka as a condition of acceptance into the fraternity. Then, he claims in the lawsuit, the fraternity and sorority members did not get the intoxicated pledges the medical help they needed.
"The fact that the fraternity members weren't drinking and they goaded the pledges into drinking to illness -- it's abusive, humiliating and degrading," Bogenberger said.
Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity suspended the NIU chapter's charter and its former members in the wake of David Bogenberger's death. The university subsequently removed Pi Kappa Alpha as a recognized student organization.
David Bogenberger's family wants more. His father calls for an end to hazing and alcohol-related deaths and said those involved need to recognize the devastation they caused.
"We have no desire for revenge," a statement from the family read. "Rather, we hope that some significant change will come from David's death. Alcohol poisoning claims far too many young, healthy lives. We must recognize that young people can and do die in hazing rituals."
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about half the students who drink engage in binge drinking, which translates to four drinks for women and five for men in under two hours. The NIAAA reported 599,000 college students between ages 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured each year after consuming alcohol. Of those, 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related injuries every year, the group reports.
David Bogenberger -- described by his father as affable, loving and one of the most social and gregarious people he ever met -- was among them.
"His friends came first. He always thought more about other people than himself," Gary Bogenberger said. "In innumerable instances, he'd stick up for his friends against all odds. I think that social proclivity and his (desire) for friends is what made him so vulnerable."
In their wrongful death lawsuit -- which named the fraternity, the NIU chapter, its officers and others who attended the party -- the Bogenberger family claims pledges were told the event was a prerequisite to becoming a member.
According to the lawsuit, David Bogenberger and 18 other pledges were divided into small groups, given 4-ounce plastic cups and ushered into separate rooms. Fraternity members and female guests posed personal and nonsensical questions to the pledges who, after answering, were directed to drink from cups the members refilled with vodka. Pledges who balked were teased or berated until they acquiesced, the lawsuit claims.
Pledges who lost consciousness were left in the basement or in hallways, but neither fraternity members nor their female guests called for medical assistance, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims frat members and guests were instructed not to contact paramedics and were told to delete cellphone video and photographs of intoxicated pledges.
The party was not registered in advance with the university as required by NIU policy, the university reported.
For Greek organizations hosting a social event that includes alcohol, NIU required at least 51 percent of members take part in a mandatory training program. The university's alcohol education program includes "bystander intervention education" meant to "empower students to report problem behavior and situations."
Attorneys for the five defendants charged with felonies cited the pending lawsuit as one reason they can't comment. The suit was dismissed in December 2014 after a Cook County judge found the family failed to prove the fraternity violated anti-hazing laws by requiring Bogenberger to drink alcohol in order to join. Judge Kathy Flanagan noted that the lawsuit stated that Bogenberger only believed drinking was a requirement for membership. She also found fraternity members could not be held responsible for not seeking treatment for Bogenberger after he passed out.
Bogenberger family attorney Peter Coladarci appealed the judge's decision.
"It's likely the case will be heard in the Illinois Supreme Court," Coladarci said. "These issues are pertinent."
Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity did not respond to interview requests. In February 2013, three months after David's death, the fraternity issued a statement that read: "The international fraternity does not manage or control the day-to-day activities of the affiliated chapters nor their adult members. However, it has and will continue to provide resources and education on alcohol abuse and hazing through its website, partnership with programs such as hazingprevention.org, an anti-hazing hotline, and through its educational conferences, which have an annual attendance of over 3,300 students."
After Bogenberger's death, the university announced charges against the fraternity and 31 students for violation of NIU's Student Code of Conduct, which can result in expulsion. According to NIU's code, hazing is off limits in all forms, even if a pledge cooperates with the mistreatment.
University representatives declined to say what, if any, action NIU took against the students who were charged, citing privacy.
But NIU spokesman Paul Palian said the university has no record of the five felony co-defendants graduating from NIU.
Last year, attorneys for the former fraternity members argued Illinois' hazing statute was unconstitutional because its language was too broad and overly vague. DeKalb County Judge John McAdams rejected their argument.
Had he lived and followed a typical college path, David Bogenberger would be completing his junior year this week.
The defendants, entering their mid-20s, could face penalties of up to 364 days in jail and a $2,500 fine if convicted of a misdemeanor and up to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted of a felony. In both scenarios, probation is an option.
Gary Bogenberger admits he wants the defendants punished more severely than the law allows. He knows that won't happen. But he hopes the drawn-out court action will warn other fraternity members and their pledges away from hazings and initiations.
"If they don't care, someone has to care for them by making sure the criminal and economic consequences are so severe someone thinks twice before allowing this to happen," he said.