Hazing News

More details on Phi Kappa Tau death



The investigation revealed that there is an established process for becoming a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.  Specific events are conducted during each pledge season (fall or spring) as part of the six-week process.  Each pledge season typically has the following weekly themes: Unity Week, Code of Silence Week, Respect Week, Knowledge Week, Trust Week and Hell Week.

During these theme weeks, the following events are consistently held:  bid day, a pinning ceremony, scavenger hunts, unity day, big/little night, code of silence night and hell night.  The investigation revealed that the Spring 2007 Phi Kappa Tau pledge class participated in all of the events except for code of silence night and hell night.

Through the investigation, it was established that participation in all of these fraternal events is not required to become a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.  The events listed are considered traditional and are part of the process each pledge member has to go through in becoming a new member.

The investigation revealed that each Phi Kappa Tau pledge participated in the scavenger hunts that were held in either New York City or Philadelphia during early morning hours.  Each pledge participated in Unity night activities, which included doing push-ups and sit-ups in the mud in the woods as part of the traditional event.  In addition, all of the pledges participated in the activities of big/little night, during which time the “Family Drink” tradition was passed on from big brother to little brother.  All of these events were completed by the Spring 2007 Phi Kappa Tau pledge class as part of a process to become full fledged members of the fraternity.

With respect to the evening of March 28, the investigation revealed that the big brother/little brother ceremony is a national tradition; however the custom of passing down the “Family Drink” from big brother to little brother is a tradition of the Rider University house.

Through the investigation, it was learned that 27 of the 28 students, including the Phi Kappa Tau big brothers and their little brothers, that participated in the passing of the “Family Drink” tradition were under the legal drinking age of 21.  All of the pledges consumed several shots of hard alcohol, and in some instances entire bottles, in less than one hour.  As a result of their participation in big/little night and the “Family Drink” tradition, two of the 14 pledges, Gary DeVercelly and William Williams, were transported to the hospital and diagnosed with alcohol poisoning.  DeVercelly was pronounced dead at Capital Health System, Fuld Campus, on March 30.

In addition, 15 individuals were charged with providing alcoholic beverages to an underage person, a disorderly persons offense, and 23 individuals were issued Lawrence Township Ordinance Violations for underage drinking.  Three students were charged with drug-related offenses in relation to the search of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house.

Bocchini credited detectives of the prosecutor’s office and the Lawrence Township Police Department, specifically prosecutor’s Detective Robert Crusen and Lawrence Detective Joseph Lech IV, for investigation of the case.

An indictment is merely an accusation.  All persons charged are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  See more stories on Gary DeVercelly

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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