Rider officials, students indicted in hazing death
Unprecedented charging of administrators is warning against alcohol, says prosecutor
BY MARY JO PATTERSON AND TOM HESTER
In a move designed to put college communities on notice, a Mercer County grand jury yesterday indicted two Rider University administrators along with three stu dents on hazing charges in the drinking death of a Rider freshman earlier this year.
"To the colleges in this state, and colleges nationally, it sends a clear message: There is a culpabil ity factor in allowing drinking on campus," Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini said at a news conference in Trenton.
Bocchini said the indictment marked the first time anywhere a university official has been charged in a hazing. The accused are Rider's dean of students and its director of Greek (fraternity) life.
The indictment came four months after 18-year-old Gary De Vercelly, of Long Beach, Calif., died after collapsing at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on Rider's Lawrenceville campus. Another pledge, William Williams, also suffered alcohol poisoning but survived.
The grand jury charged that the five "did knowingly or recklessly organize, promote, facilitate or engage in conduct" that harmed the two young men.
They were identified as: Ada Badgley, 31, of Lawrenceville, director of Greek life; Anthony Campbell, 51, of Lawrence, dean of students; Adriano DiDonato, 22, of Princeton, residence director of Phi Kappa Tau; Dominic Olsen, 21, of Kenilworth, pledge master of the spring 2007 Phi Kappa Tau pledge class; and Michael Torney, 21, of Randolph, president of the fraternity.
The charge, a fourth-degree crime, carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Bocchini said he expected the defendants to appear on the charges in the next week or two, and said they could apply for pretrial intervention if they are first offenders.
The indictment, one paragraph long, supplies no details about the night in question, March 29. Bocchini declined to describe why the Rider officials were culpable. However, he said, neither was inside the frat house when the students became ill.
Investigators determined De Vercelly and Williams were among 14 pledges participating in something called "big/little night," a traditional event of the pledging season.
While "big/little night" is a national Phi Kappa Tau traditional event, the Rider chapter added its own rite, "Family Drink," the prosecutor said. The custom involved passing down the "Family Drink" from big brother to little brother. In the process, some pledges consumed an entire bottle of hard liquor in less than an hour, Bocchini said. All but one of the 28 students present were under the legal drinking age of 21.
Rider President Mordechai Richter was not available for comment yesterday. But in a statement posted on the college's Web site, he announced the indictment and said he had dissolved Rider's Phi Kappa Tau chapter.
Richter did not address the fact that two university officials had been accused in the death. But, he wrote, "We take this matter very seriously and will carefully evaluate these charges and determine appropriate steps to be taken."
Earle Rommel, a university spokesman, said Badgley and Campbell remain at Rider. Asked if they will retain their positions, he said: "We will be evaluating our options with our attorneys."
The indictment is sure to raise eyebrows nationwide.
"This case will be watched by every administrator at every college in the country," said Hank Nuwer, an assistant professor at Franklin College in Indiana who has written four books about hazing.
Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, an umbrella association for the nation's colleges and universities, said hazing is illegal in 44 states, including New Jersey. But, she said, she knew of no state where university officials had been criminally prosecuted under the statutes.
DeVercelly pledged the fraternity in February. After he died, friends told the Times of Trenton that he had talked about having to drink an entire bottle of vodka at an upcoming pledge event.
By the time he reached a hospital, he was in a coma and never regained consciousness. An autopsy found he had a blood alcohol level of 0.426, more than five times the legal driving limit.
Besides "big/little" night, Phi Kappa Tau pledges participated in scavenger hunts in New York or Philadelphia during the wee hours, investigators said. There was also one night where pledges did pushups and situps in the mud, in the woods.
Bocchini said the pledge period lasted six weeks, each of which had a theme: Unit Week, Code of Silence Week, Respect Week, Knowledge Week, Trust Week and Hell Week. DeVercelly died in the fourth week.
After police were called to the fraternity house on March 29, they charged 15 people with providing alcohol to underage drinkers; 23 others were issued summonses for underage drinking. Three students were also charged with drug-related offenses.
Three months later, Rider announced a crackdown on alcohol.
During the tragedy Anthony Campbell, the indicted dean, was Rider's main spokesman. He told The Star-Ledger at the time that he rushed to the Phi Kappa Tau house when someone called police, but saw nothing to explain what had been going on.
Yesterday, Bocchini said "photographic" evidence had been presented to the grand jury. He declined to be more specific.
Neither Campbell nor any of the other defendants could not be reached yesterday.
The prosecutor, who said he drank as a fraternity member in college, said he did not think the indictment would change students' behavior. "However, as a re sult of this indictment, colleges, and college kids, are on notice that they will be subject to indictment."
Rider University is a private, co-educational college off Route 206, just north of Trenton, with about 3,700 full-time undergraduates. It has 14 traditional Greek organizations on campus. About 17 percent of students belong to them, according to school officials.
Staff writers Ana M. Alaya, Brian Murray and Lawrence Ragonese contributed to this report.
© 2007 The Star Ledger
WCBS-TVNew York, NYAugust 3, 2007
Rider Dean Charged With Hazing In Student's DeathFreshman Died From Alcohol Poisoning After Fraternity Party In March
(CBS) TRENTON -- Rider University's Dean of Students and the Director of Greek Life are among five people charged in the death of a freshman from alcohol intoxication after a fraternity party at the school. The case is monumental as it's the first time in New Jersey that a university official has been implicated in a hazing crime.Gary DeVercelly, 18, of Long Beach, Calif., died on March 30. Mercer County police charged 51-year-old Anthony Cambell, the school's Dean of Students, and 31-year-old Ada Badgley, the Director of Greek Life, with aggravated hazing.
"The ramifications of this for colleges and universities in New Jersey, and across the country, is that it will send some kind of message that the standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully," said Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr.
Three members of DeVercelly's fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, the house which he had been initiated into just the day before his death, were also charged. Those members have been identified as 21-year-old Michael Tourney of Randolph; 21-year-old Dominic Olsen of Kenilworth; and 22-year-old Adrian DiDonato of Princeton.
"The defendants knowingly or recklessly organized, promoted, facilitated, or engaged in conduct which resulted in the death of Gary DeVercelly," Bochhini said.
DeVercelly was admitted to a Trenton hospital with alcohol poisoning on March 29 and died a day later after going into cardiac arrest. Officials said his blood alcohol content was .426, five times the legal limit for driving, when he was admitted.The group is also implicated in the alleged hazing of William Williams, another freshman who was hospitalized, but survived.
Tourney is the fraternity chapter's president, while Olsen was the pledge master for DeVercelly's pledge class. DiDonato was the fraternity's house master and residence director.DeVercelly allegedly drank half-a-bottle of vodka in a short amount of time at the fraternity party, a traditional celebration where older brothers drink with new members called "family drink."
Officials say the party was not registered with the university.Since the incident, the Phi Kappa Tau house has been shut down and the university has taken steps to make sure this never happens again.
"We established a unversity-wide social events policy that prohibits alochol-related events in residents halls or Greek houses," Rider University spokesman Earle Rommel told CBS 2 HD.
Bocchini, the Mercer County prosecutor, wouldn't disclose the exact evidence that resulted in a grand jury indicting the five. However, he has said previously that the investigation revealed some of the pledges drank entire bottles of hard liquor in under an hour.
In the case of the officials, the grand jury looked at the way they handled oversight of the Greek organizations on campus, Bocchini said. "This sends a clear message to the extent that there is a culpability factor involved in the ingestion of alcoholic beverages on a college or university campus," Bocchini said.
"To Rider's credit, unfortunately after the fact, they immediately took steps." It was Campbell himself who in June announced the new policies, developed by a task force of faculty, staff and students.
Days after his death, the university held a touching vigil for DeVercelly. "It was a beautiful ceremony. I don't know if there was a dry eye in the house," said Student Body President Steven Klemchalk then. "Everyone is grieving for Gary and his family."
If convicted, the officials and fraternity members charged Friday would face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Along with the five charged Friday, another 15 people have been charged in municipal court with providing alcohol to people underage, and 23 have been charged with underage drinking related to the March party, Bocchini said.
Law enforcement's search of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house, according to Bocchini, also resulted in three students being charged with drug-related offenses.