Editorial: A 'loud statement' on dangers of hazing, excessive drinking
The $14 million legal settlement awarded to the family of a Palatine teen who died after an alcohol-fueled hazing at a Northern Illinois University fraternity was meant to send a message. Was it received?
Gary and Ruth Bogenberger said the lawsuit was not about vengeance over the death of their son David, but rather it was meant "to make a loud statement." It is telling that such a statement is still needed to scream about the dangers of excessive drinking and hazing after the oh so many years of campus campaigns, warnings and deaths.
Not unlike the ongoing problems with DUI-related crashes and those caused by distracted driving, this issue is perplexing in that it remains a problem for young adults who continue to engage in such risky behavior. Why do these tragedies still happen?
In 2012, Illinois legislators made a statement of their own with a stern law forbidding hazing at any level. And, proceeding through an eventual state Supreme Court ruling, the Bogenberger case played a central role in certifying the law and identifying negligence of individuals involved in hazing incidents.
"Hazing can be deadly. It's not something people can continue to overlook. Too many people have suffered already," Ruth Bogenberger told our Barbara Vitello. "We are using whatever means are available to us to make a loud statement to say this is a big deal. Someone died because a bunch of kids were careless, thoughtless and cruel."
The settlement comes six years after David Bogenberger, then an NIU freshman pledging Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, was found the morning after an unsanctioned party with a blood alcohol content of 0.351 percent, more than four times the .08 percent legal limit for adults 21 and older to drive.
Authorities said he was one of 18 pledges who attended the party, where active members and their female guests pushed the young men to consume excessive amounts of alcohol as part of a hazing ritual. The intoxicated pledges became unconscious but no one called paramedics or sought medical attention for them.
In the end, 22 men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct or hazing in May 2015 -- the largest prosecution of its kind in county history, authorities said. They were sentenced to probation or supervision, community service and fines. None received jail time. Bogenberger's family filed a wrongful-death suit against the fraternity and others.
The result of this hazing was far worse than a bad hangover -- one young man is dead, countless others will live with feelings of guilt for contributing to the tragedy, and millions of dollars were spent in settlement costs and legal fees. What a waste.
For many years, universities have tried to crack down on excessive drinking. Fraternities have tried to tackle the hazing problem, some more successfully than others. It's a practice with roots in a bygone era and has long since outlived whatever place it may have had in fraternal lore. Let's hope that people are starting to pay attention.