A historic $14 million settlement has been reached in a lawsuit surrounding the 2012 death of 19-year-old Northern Illinois University freshman and fraternity pledge David Bogenberger.
David's father, Gary Bogenberger, said on Friday that it was a hollow victory, but emphasized his hope that his son's case would be "a loud and direct message to national fraternities and sororities that their day of reckoning is fast approaching."
"It is over? Emotionally, never," Gary Bogenberger said. "Just a half-hour ago, we were sitting here looking at our beautiful 9-foot Christmas tree we've got set up, and my wife [Ruth] commented 'None of David's ornaments are up' because he's not around to do it. We have these little reminders every single day that you never really get over it."
David Bogenberger, one of three triplets from Palatine, and 18 other pledges attended an unsanctioned party Nov. 1, 2012, at the Pi Kappa Alpha, or "Pikes" fraternity house. There, fraternity members and other guests told pledges to drink vodka out of 4-ounce cups, authorities have said. The pledges drank for about two hours while playing a game in which they were assigned “moms” and “dads” whose identities they had to guess. The pledges were given buckets, which had been decorated by women at the party, for when they got sick.
David was found dead in the fraternity house the morning after the event. Toxicology results showed he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.351 percent at the time of his death, five times the legal limit for operating a car. He drank about 27 ounces of vodka – more than a pint and a half – in 75 minutes.
Of about four dozen people at the house, not one called 911 to seek medical help for David or the other pledges because they were afraid their activities would be made known, Gary Bogenberger said in a news release he wrote himself.
In May 2015, 22 former fraternity members were found guilty of charges that included reckless conduct and misdemeanor hazing and were sentenced to fines and community service.
Gary and Ruth Bogenberger spent Friday fielding media calls about the settlement.
"Someone called and said 'I don't know whether to say congratulations; that seems so crass,' but it's a good thing [the settlement] happened," Gary Bogenberger said. "It's a good thing, but God knows we would love to have [David] back. There's not enough money in the world to replace him,"
The lawsuit by Gary and Ruth Bogenberger against the respective parties, initially was dismissed and then the Illinois Supreme Court in January ruled that all men, women and the Pikes chapter could be held liable for David Bogenberger's death and remanded the action to the Circuit Court. Since that time, Gary Bogenberger said "the defendants and their respective insurance companies felt that the writing was on the wall," and a mediation period began in Cook County Circuit Court.
The result was a $14 million settlement between 44 men and women who were at the party, and the PKA chapter at NIU, which was shut down six years ago. Both Gary and the Bogenberger's attorney, Peter Coladarci, said this is the largest settlement in the country that has come from alcohol-related hazing by fraternities.
Coladarci said NIU as an entity is not involved in the $14 million settlement. He said the claim against NIU still is technically pending, but it seems likely that the case will be dismissed as well with the $14 million settlement, which will be dividied among the 45 defendants based on their own lawyers and insurance providers. The paying entities include the fraternity, as well as 44 members who were present at the hazing.
"It's a lot of money, and [the defendants] took it seriously," Coladarci said.
The 44 individuals who were at the party included 22 sorority members and 22 fraternity members. The total amount of the settlement was paid to the Bogenberger family as of Nov. 20.
Gary Bogenberger said the lasting effect on David's triplet siblings – he would have turned 25 with them this year – and his now 18-year-old sister has been significant.
"It's something we'll never get over. It's constantly nagging at you," he said. "Maybe not as severely; it's duller, the pain is duller."
The cause of David Bogenberger's death – hazing – is a problem that has yet to be solved, Gary Bogenberger pointed out.
"There have been nearly 40 kids killed in hazings since my son – it's absolutely reprehensible that this continues," Gary Bogenberger said. "That's the message we really want to get out there. Something horrible happened, and there are dire consequences of just ignoring these pledges to satisfy their own egos during these initiations."