DeKALB – The family of a 19-year-old fraternity pledge found dead Nov. 2 after a night of heavy drinking plans to add 16 women to a wrongful death lawsuit – and could add more later.
Peter Coladarci, the Chicago attorney representing David Bogenberger's family, said more students would likely be included in the lawsuit after he learns their full names. A separate lawsuit could be filed against Northern Illinois University.
"People have to understand if they participate in an event like this and someone dies, they are going to be held legally and morally accountable," Coladarci said.
Bogenberger, an NIU freshman from Palatine, was found dead at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house Nov. 2 after an unsanctioned “parents night” party where Greek members paired into "moms" and "dads." The "parents" asked pledges questions where wrong answers resulted in pledges drinking excessive amounts of vodka.
The lawsuit alleges, fraternity members put Bogenberger on a couch or bed in the house after he passed out from excessive drinking rather than seeking medical attention. His blood-alcohol content when he died was 0.351 percent, which is more than four times the legal driving limit.
If a Cook County judge ultimately approves the motion to add the 16 women named Wednesday, the lawsuit would include a total of 38 students. Coladarci said the judge did not approve the motion Wednesday because of a technicality, but indicated it would be allowed at a May 3 court date once Coladarci separates complaints under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act and Illinois Survival Act.
DeKalb police have said the women were not actively involved in providing the alcohol or encouraging the drinking, which is why they were not included in the criminal charges brought against 22 fraternity members. Five face felony hazing charges, while the rest are charged with misdemeanors.
But Coladarci said after reading police reports, he believes the women were just as active in asking questions that resulted in drinking as the men who were charged.
"I bring these participants in with some regret," Coladarci said. "But unless they're held accountable, events like these will continue to go on."
Coladarci said the motivation behind the Bogenberger family's lawsuit is to prevent dangerous hazing practices and make significant changes on a public health issue. He cited numbers from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that show roughly 1,800 college students die each year from unintentional, alcohol-related injuries, most from traffic accidents.
The lawsuit, first filed in Cook County Circuit Court in February, seeks more than $100,000 in damages from the national Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, the fraternity’s Eta Nu chapter at NIU, the chapter officers, the event organizers and people who participated in the party.
Thirty-one students linked to the unsanctioned party also faced university sanctions that could include suspension or expulsion. NIU spokesman Paul Palian said all hearings are complete, but he would not reveal the names of students or outcomes of cases because of protections in The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.