Father of NIU frat hazing victim tells 22 convicted, 'You left him alone to die'
In what authorities called the largest hazing prosecution in the country's history, 22 men were convicted of misdemeanors Friday in the 2012 alcohol-related death of Northern Illinois University freshman and Palatine native David Bogenberger.
Five former officers of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity -- where the 19-year-old Palatine High School graduate was a pledge -- pleaded guilty to reckless conduct, a Class A misdemeanor, as part of negotiated agreements. 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, were sentenced to 24 months' conditional discharge, a type of probation. DeKalb County Judge Thomas Doherty also ordered each of them to pay a $1,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service.
David's mother, Ruth Bogenberger, dabbed at her eyes during the hearing. David's father, Gary Bogenberger, remained stoic until it was time for his victim impact statement, when he broke down in tears, shielding his eyes.
Recovering, he lambasted the defendants, saying they "didn't care one iota for David's or the fellow pledges' well-being but rather only for your own self-gratification in seeing David demeaned and incapacitated."
Bogenberger and 18 other pledges attended an unsanctioned party at the off-campus fraternity on Nov. 1, 2012, where -- as part of a hazing ritual -- active members and their female guests pushed and berated the pledges to consume excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period of time, leaving them intoxicated and unconscious. No one at the party called paramedics or sought medical attention for the pledges.
Bogenberger was found unresponsive the next morning. His blood alcohol content was 0.351 percent, more than four times the legal limit of .08.
Gary Bogenberger referenced cellphone videos and photographs authorities say the fraternity members took of the insensate pledges and then deleted. Gary Bogenberger said that demonstrated "your fear of getting caught, your personal consequence, your reputation ... was more important than the life and safety of the pledges entrusted to you.
"David was an affable, caring son who wanted acceptance and friendship," Bogenberger said. "You used his need for this to render him incapacitated and dead. You didn't care for him. You left him alone to die."
Ruth Bogenberger described her son, who was born a triplet, as loving and selfless -- "the kind of son every mother hopes for."
"David had a smile that could light up a room, a laugh that could lift you from the darkest mood and a generous nature," she said.
Ruth Bogenberger expressed disbelief that "self-proclaimed brothers" did not extend to him the care one would "render a sick animal."
"Nothing can bring David back to those of us who love him," she said, "but I hope the justice meted out in this courtroom today is enough of a deterrent to save other young, promising lives and to spare other parents from the indescribable agony that David's father and I will endure every day for the rest of our lives."
Seventeen other men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor hazing. Each was sentenced to two years of court supervision, plus 100 hours of community service and a $500 fine. They are: Alexander D. Renn, 22, of Naperville; Michael A. Marroquin, 23, of Roselle; Stefan A. Diaz, 24, of South Beloit; Nelson A. Irizarry, who in 2012 was listed as 19, from DeKalb; Nicholas A. Suter, 22, of Galesburg; Andrew W. Bouleanu, 24, of Skokie; Isaiah Lott, 22, of Cupertino, California; Johnny P. Wallace, 22, of Westmont; Andres Jimenez, 21, of Glendale Heights; Daniel S. Post, 22, of Chicago; Michael D. Pfest, 25, of Chicago; Michael J. Phillip, 23, of Western Springs; Hazel Vergaralope, 24, of Oswego; Thomas F. Costello, 22, of Usnter, Indiana; Nsenzi K. Salasini, 23, of Mount Prospect; David R. Sailer, 22, of Princeton; and Russell P. Coyner, 23, of Channahon.
There was no evidence any of the defendants intended David's death, said DeKalb County State's Attorney Richard Schmack.
"The fault is more in a system that encouraged irresponsibility and risky behavior, than in individuals who thoughtlessly repeated a ritual where they had once been victims, and then became perpetrators," he said. "We can only hope that this prosecution will in some way serve as an object lesson to them and those who would come after them, at least at NIU, if not the nation."
After Bogenberger's death, NIU announced charges against the fraternity and 31 students for violating the student code of conduct. Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity suspended the NIU chapter's charter and its members. NIU subsequently removed the fraternity as a recognized student organization.
In a prepared statement, university officials offered condolences to the Bogenberger family.
"We empathize with the Bogenberger family and acknowledge their feelings in what has been found by the court to be a wrongful death," wrote spokesman Paul Palian.
After the hearing, Bogenberger family attorney Peter Coldarci, who represents the family in their wrongful death lawsuit against the defendants, called for fraternities and sororities to abolish pledging, which he said "is hazing by another name." A Cook County judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, but Coldarci has appealed the decision.
"One wish we have is that David's death could stand for something," said Gary Bogenberger, "and be a catalyst for change."