Wrongful death suit continues; parents of hazing victim to sue former fraternity members

James Krause and Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the family of an NIU student, who died in 2012 from heavy drinking during a pledging ritual, can file a wrongful death lawsuit against former members of Pi Kappa Alpha.

David Bogenberger, 19, attended a Nov. 1, 2012, unsanctioned party at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house. Pledges participated in a “Mom’s and Dad’s Night” ritual where they were to answered questions asked by the fraternity and sorority “Greek parents”; if the pledge answered incorrectly, he was forced to consume vodka and be “called derogatory names by the couples,” according to the June 13, 2016, Illinois Appellate Court decision.

Charles Freeman, state Supreme Court judge, wrote for the decision Friday, dismissing the national and international chapter of the fraternity but allowed the family to continue its wrongful death suit against local chapter leaders and officers. In total, 38 people will be involved in the lawsuit, including 16 non-fraternity members who were at the party that led to Bogenberger’s death.

In the state Supreme Court’s decision, Freeman said the pledging event was not a social event where the host could deny liability but a hazing event where Bogenberger was forced to drink.

“We would be turning a blind eye if we failed to acknowledge the differences between a social host situation and an alcohol-related hazing event,” Freeman wrote. “A social host situation involves the sale or gift of alcohol. An alcohol-related hazing event involves the required consumption of alcohol in order to gain admission into a school organization in violation of Illinois’ hazing statute.”

Active members and officers of the fraternity put unconscious, intoxicated pledges in designated rooms and positioned them so they wouldn’t choke if they vomited and checked up on them periodically throughout the night.

Alexander M. Jandick and Patrick W. Merrill, Pi Kappa Alpha executive officers, sent out a mass text to all fraternity members instructing them to delete any photos or videos of intoxicated, unconscious pledges, according to the Illinois appellate court’s decision.

Bogenberger’s dead body was found the following morning in one of the member’s bedroom. A coroner’s report found Bogenberger had a blood alcohol level of 0.351 percent.

The fraternity received an “indefinite” suspension from campus following Bogenberger death for hazing, disruptive behavior, drugs and providing alcohol to a minor, according to the Division of Student Affairs website.

The civil lawsuit was originally filed against the fraternity’s international, national and local chapter in 2013.

The original wrongful death suit was dismissed by Cook County Judge Kathy Flanagan Dec. 11, 2014, before making its way to the Illinois appellate court and then the Illinois Supreme Court.

The 22 fraternity members who were present the night of Borgenberger’s death were sentenced to community service, fines and probation for reckless conduct and misdemeanor hazing in May 2015, according to a May 8, 2015, Northern Star article.

Peter Coladarci, the Bogenberger’s family lawyer, said the family felt a sense of relief from the Supreme Court’s decision.

“They’re relieved,” Coladarci said. “You can tell your clients you know how the courts are going to rule and be confident they will do the right thing, but until the court rules, there is that lingering doubt.”

Coladarci said the case will now go back to a circuit court, where the case will either continue or be settled out of court.

“It’ll be remanded within a month or two back to the Cook County Circuit Court,” Coladarci said. “It’s conceivable that we will be settling discussions, but that will require everyone to come to an understanding of the implications of the crime.”