Arrests in a Freshman's Drinking Death Reflect a Tougher Approach

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DeKALB, Ill. -- All it took was two hours.

In that time, David Bogenberger, one of 19 pledges seeking entry into the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity here at Northern Illinois University, drank enough to put him nearly four times over the legal alcohol limit. Mr. Bogenberger, a 19-year-old freshman, died in his sleep that night.

Now the authorities in this rural Illinois college town are holding the fraternity members that orchestrated the November initiation event accountable, issuing arrest warrants this week for 22 students charged with felony and misdemeanor hazing counts.

"This wasn't just a spontaneous party, it wasn't something that kind of happened through the course of the night," said Lt. Jason Leverton of the DeKalb police. "It was very much preplanned, it was predetermined that the goal here was to get the pledges extremely intoxicated."

By Wednesday afternoon, at least 14 of the accused students -- all ages 19 to 23 -- had turned themselves in to authorities and were released on bond. The first court hearings will be held on Jan 8.

The arrests amount to one of the largest numbers of people to be criminally charged in a single college hazing episode, reflecting recent efforts by the police and prosecutors around the country to enforce anti-hazing laws more aggressively. But some experts said the message was unlikely to make a lasting change in college drinking culture.

"Things tend to go back to normal because the institutional memories at universities change every four years," said Douglas E. Fierberg, a Washington lawyer who specializes in hazing death cases. "The new freshmen know nothing about what happened four years earlier."

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 1,800 students ages 18 to 24 die each year from alcohol-related events. A toxicology report showed Mr. Bogenberger's blood alcohol content had reached 0.35 percent, causing intoxication-induced heart complications that led to his death, officials said.

Culpability in alcohol-related hazing is not always an easy case to prove. In June, three former students at Cornell University were acquitted of similar charges after being accused of making a student consume excessive amounts of alcohol in a fraternity ritual.

At Northern Illinois, officials contend that Pi Kappa Alpha members hid the Nov. 1 event from the fraternity's national chapter and the university, which requires all Greek social events to be registered in advance.

On that night, starting around 8 p.m., Mr. Bogenberger and other pledges roamed the three-story brick fraternity house, moving from bedroom to bedroom, where upperclassmen quizzed them about fraternal history. They were told to drink plastic cups of vodka and other liquor, some two-thirds full, after each answer, officials said.

According to the DeKalb police, pledges reported that by 10 p.m. they had consumed around 20 drinks each, with some saying they had gotten sick or had passed out afterward. Mr. Bogenberger did not wake up the next morning.

Mr. Bogenberger's death rocked the campus, located 70 miles west of Chicago. Hundreds of students gathered for a memorial service and for a candlelight vigil outside the fraternity. Some fraternities canceled their social events for the rest of the semester.

Shortly afterward, the Pi Kappa Alpha sign was removed from its building on the edge of "Greek Row." The university has since announced temporary sanctions on the fraternity, removing its student organization status. Thirty-one of its students also face disciplinary action that could include expulsion.

On Monday, local authorities filed felony hazing charges against five fraternity leaders, citing their involvement in planning the drinking event. The charges carry a sentence of one to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Seventeen other fraternity members, who supposedly participated in the event, were charged with hazing misdemeanors and could face up to one year in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. Efforts to reach some of the students, who are on winter break, and a spokesman for the fraternity's national office went unanswered.

Peter R. Coladarci, a lawyer for the Bogenbergers, said the family had not yet decided whether to pursue any civil claims. "We have no desire for revenge," a statement released by the Bogenberger family said. "Rather, we hope some significant change will come from David's death."

This week around campus, which was quiet ahead of the holidays, emotions were mixed about whether the message had gotten through. Students said they were shocked by Mr. Bogenberger's death, but they also expressed some sympathy for the students charged.

"They're all my friends," said Forrest Conter, 19, a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. "They're good guys."

Added Briana Owens, 21: "There are always going to be parties in a college town."

That was something Stephanie Huffman, 38, learned quickly when she moved into an apartment behind Pi Kappa Alpha in early December. A few weekends ago, just a month after Mr. Bogenberger died, she said fraternity members were outside drinking and blaring music until early the next morning.

"I knew it would be loud, but I didn't know it would go all night," she said.

education

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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