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Hazing News

Rider had 2004 complaint

From ©The Trentonian 2007
LAWRENCE — Maureen Lyon questions the resolve of the Mercer County cops looking into reports of a hazing at The College of New Jersey.

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After all, she said, when her daughter was bound with duct tape and tied to a pole for an hour at Rider University, authorities called it simple assault.

Saying the April 27 assault on her daughter was a more serious matter, the mother criticized the investigation conducted by Rider officials, Lawrence detectives and Mercer prosecutors.

Maureen Lyon also urged the parents of any student hazed at CNJ to be wary of image-conscious school administrators and detectives and prosecutors who seem too willing to downgrade charges.

Yesterday, Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onifri said county detectives continued interviewing CNJ football players about the anonymous allegation that one of them had been hazed. No arrests were made, Onifri said.

The Lyon case, and the legal disagreements it has spawned, illustrate the difficulty in investigating allegations that someone was humiliated or assaulted as part of a youthful prank or initiation rite — commonly calling hazing.

No one disputes, for instance, that Rider freshman Alexis Lyon’s hands were bound by duct tape and she was strapped to a pole with an Ace bandage in the Lincoln residence hall last April.

But why was she there, on the ground, some say laughing, some say screaming? Was it a practical joke or a crime?

“I was just scared,” Lyon said, recalling the evening when five of her former friends and roommates allegedly tied her up and dragged her into the residence hall hallway. “I was wondering what was going to happen next.”

According to the father and attorney of one of the accused students, it was a joke.

“These kids were goofing around,” said Hamilton attorney Chris Cornelli, representing 19-year-old Larry Bilello of Deer Park, N.Y. “They have pictures. She’s got a huge grin on her face from ear to ear and certainly seems to be laughing and being a willing participant in some college hijinks.”

The five students accused of harassment and false imprisonment have all withdrawn from classes at Rider.

Mercer County prosecutors declined to go forward with a criminal case due to insufficient evidence. The criminal case has been sent back to Lawrence municipal court.

The Lyon family, of Tinton Falls, is also planning a civil suit to name the five students and Rider University.

While both sides argue over whether the duct taping was a crime or a joke, they both are unhappy with how Rider handled the case.

“I am angry,” said Bilello’s father, who is also named Larry. “You see your kid persecuted, you see your kids cry because they love the college (but they have to leave) because they don’t (want) to deal with it.”

Bilello maintains that a residential advisor saw the incident and let it continue.

Anthony Campbell, associate vice president for student affairs at Rider, said he doesn’t know for sure that an RA was in the building. That is part of the school’s investigation, he said.

“I believe the university acted responsibly,” Campbell said. “They were charged with violations of our code of conduct and they withdrew before any proceedings.”

Lyon’s mother, however, maintains that her daughter was the victim in the incident and the accused students should have been dealt with more harshly by the school.

She said she is upset that the students were allowed to stay in their on-campus residences through the end of the spring semester, while Alexis had to commute because she said she feared for her safety.

“I think they should have investigated more,” Maureen Lyon said. “The school did not provide (for Alexis’) safety. We had to commute her back and forth the whole week. They said they couldn’t move five kids out of the dorm, one was easier.”

Alexis Lyon said she was sitting at her computer in her room, part of a suite she shared with the three female defendants in the case, when the two men charged in the case came in.

She said she was pushed onto her bed and a wool blanket was thrown over head. She tried to squirm away, but Bilello allegedly grabbed her and held her down.

The three women charged in the case — Jennifer Augello, of Marlboro; Lisa Marchitto, of Browns Mills; and Kristyn Florio, of Deer Park, N.Y — then came into the room, Lyon said.

Defendant John Pantuck, of Vorhees, grabbed a roll of duct tape in the room and Bilello allegedly tied Lyon’s hands behind her back, she said.

Lyon said she was then dragged into the hallway and left there for over an hour, tied to a pole, before two neighbors let her free.

“I couldn’t understand what was going on,” she said. “I was trying to get out of my room the whole entire time.”

According to Bilello’s father and his attorney, Lyon knew exactly what was going on. And she was enjoying it.

“They were fooling around the same way they have all semester,” said Bilello’s father. “It was a practical joke. She was laughing. They have pictures of her laughing. They have pictures from three months (before), only one of the guys was wrapped up by an Ace bandage.


By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. 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 new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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