Hazing News

Prosecutor: Rider case has photo evidence and sends message to administrators

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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 direc tor 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 suf fered alcohol poisoning but sur vived.

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, di rector 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 ex pected 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. Boc chini 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 [Rozanski] 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.

[Rozanski] 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.”