Use back arrow to return to previous page Federal law aimed at preventing such tragedies
Many others suffered a fate similar to Gary-see details
  Rider remembers Gary-4/1/07  Article
  Rider University student's blood alcohol content was five times legal limit-4/3/07 Article
  Rider probes use of alcohol-4/4/07 Article

 Gary DeVercelly Jr.

Rider moves to curb campus drinking-6/7/07 Article

March 28, 2007

Rider officials, students indicted in hazing death-8/4/07 Article

Rider University

Tragedy at Rider sparks campus fears-8/29/07 Article
  Rider's proposed campus-wide alcohol ban is a precaution that appears justified. -8/31/07  Article
  A sip of desire-10/8/07 Article
  Family sues Rider over death-12/9/07 Article
  Torney agrees to pay $150,000 in civil suit-4/18/08 Article
  Frat prez gets break in Rider booze death-July 22, 2008 Article
  Rider University student sentenced to three years probation in fatal fraternity hazing-12/16/08 Article

Article Summaries and Excerpts Below 

Does this need to happen to Gary and others  

Rider remembers Gary                

JOE D’AQUILA, Staff Writer                                    Top of Page                Article


LAWRENCE -- A little more than a day after learning his oldest son died a senseless and tragically premature death, Gary DeVercelly Sr. stood to comfort a crowd of people he’d mostly never met, while standing to face every parent’s worst nightmare.

DeVercelly, and his wife Julie, joined members of the Rider University community yesterday to memorialize their son, Gary Jr., who succumbed after slipping into an alcohol-induced coma following a night of drinking at an on-campus frat party.

At yesterday’s service, Gary Sr. began his remarks by apologizing to the gathered crowd for his words to follow. He felt the need to explain the difficulty in preparing his statement through the fog of his loss, should the words not be sufficiently eloquent.

"The horror of the circumstances has just been very difficult for my family and I," DeVercelly said.

The beleaguered father, for the most part, managed an upbeat tone as he asked his son’s friends and classmates to hold on to the positive aspects of Gary’s life, rather then dwell on the way it came to an end.

DeVercelly, an 18-year-old freshman, was pronounced dead Friday morning at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton, where he had been since passing out early Thursday morning at a party in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house.

His father, mother, brother and sister flew out from the family’s home in Long Beach, Calif. on Thursday after learning Gary was in the hospital.

Gary Sr. said that over the course of his son’s 18 years, the boy had truly become a man, and the father was clearly proud of the son he raised.

"All men, all fathers, get this rare privilege when we have a little boy," he said. "You’re their hero. When they’re very young, they look up at you in such a way, it just makes you feel like you’re the king of the world.

"I remember those days with Gary and I remember I wondered how I could ever live up to that. I just did my best and hoped for the best.

"But he got older and he grew, and as he grew, our relationship shifted. I looked at Gary to be my hero."

The father said Gary Jr. was known by many names to many people at different times in his life. DeVercelly said he called his son Lefty, because he coached him through Little League as a left-handed pitcher.

He seemed puzzled though, in a comic way, about the names given to his son by friends in California, who called him "G-Baby" or "G-Unit."

"I liked ‘Gary,’" he said of their shared name. "That’s why I gave it to him."

But at Rider, his friends knew DeVercelly Jr. as "Cali," the father said.

"He liked that name," he said. "And I liked that name. It fit Gary. He was a real California kid. He personified California in his lifestyle and attitude."

DeVercelly’s mother Julie also addressed the crowd, and hoped some at the school could learn from her family’s loss.

"We need to turn this tragedy into something good," DeVercelly said. "So we’re asking you to be an advocate -- an advocate for what this university needs to do to take a stance and not let this happen here ever again. Remember our son."

School officials have yet to say what, if any, disciplinary action might be taken in the aftermath of DeVercelly’s death. Instead, they’ll await the outcome of an investigation being carried out by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office to determine if hazing was involved in the death at Phi Kappa Tau.

DeVercelly was pledging the fraternity.

Dr. Mordechai Rozanski, president of Rider University, speaking at the memorial, called DeVercelly a "remarkably liked and talented young man," and offered his condolences.

"On behalf of the Rider community, to the DeVercelly family, allow me to offer my heartfelt sympathy," Rozanski said. "Many members of the Rider community have come forward to express their admiration and affection for Gary."

Rozanski said Gary’s mom’s wishes would be carried out in two ways. He said DeVercelly’s memory would be honored both through the school’s efforts to see that a similar tragedy could never happen again, and through a scholarship offered in Gary’s name to incoming freshman.

"The expectation is Gary’s gentle and loving spirit will live on," he said.

Another Rider professional who had the chance to sample Gary’s spirit was Dr. Kelly Lake, Gary’s first semester English professor.

Lake addressed the crowd and was visibly moved by the loss of her student. Though their lives had intersected for only a short time, it seemed clear the freshman had made an impact.

Lake, teary eyed, at times attempted to lighten the memorial’s mood as she reflected on the classroom memories she had of DeVercelly.

She related DeVercelly’s laid back "California" attitude, and said that whenever he turned in his assignments, they would have the words, "Here it is. Enjoy." written upon it, and said his humor was a well-known part of his personality.

"He was the first to make us laugh," Lake said.

Though she tried to raise the spirits of the mourners by remembering some of the simple good times, she closed her remarks by noting the one thing clear enough to everyone in the room -- that she shouldn’t have been called on to eulogize someone so young.

"I shouldn’t be up here today," she said. "I shouldn’t have to be up here."

Lake’s words seemed to resonate with the hundreds in attendance, mainly students, who packed into Gill Chapel.

Rider student Ross Boehm, said he and Gary became instant friends when they met during freshman orientation at the beginning of the school year, and said that from that day forward the two were inseparable.

"If you saw one of us, you saw the other," Boehm said. "I loved Gary like a brother."

Gary’s real siblings, Noah and Emily sat quietly by their parents as the words of remembrance for their big brother flowed through the tiny chapel, and Gary Sr. said he’ll look to them when he wants to remember what he’s lost.

"If you miss Gary -- and I’m sure you will, you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t -- I’d say look at Noah and Emily, and you’ll see Gary right there," he said. "I know I do."

In reflecting on how people should view his son in light of the way his life came to a close, Gary Sr. told another tragic tale -- this one from even earlier in his son’s youth.

He talked about a neighborhood teenager back in Long Beach named Javier, who was a standout student and athlete nearly a decade older than Gary.

Gary, his father said, was always a rabid baseball fan. Javier was one of the best players around, and though he was much older, Gary Sr. said he would often take the time to have a catch with his young son, encouraging his interest in the game.

But in 1995, when Javier was a senior in high school, he was murdered.

Javier, whose last name was Gutierrez, was shot in the back by a gang-banger less than a block from his school, according to archived news stories about the case.

Adding to the tragedy, Gary Sr. said people in the neighborhood began to whisper about Javier, wondering if he too was involved with gangs, since his life was ended by someone who was.

But DeVercelly said he knew Javier well, and as another of his young son’s heroes, he knew that wasn’t the case.

"If you knew Javier, you’d know that he was in no way, shape or form involved with gangs," he said. "He was just a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time."

DeVercelly said he hoped people would see his own son’s life, and death, in the same way.

"You can’t take something that happens, and judge a person’s whole life," he said.

Rider University student's blood alcohol content was five times legal limit 

 Posted by Staten Island Advance April 03, 2007 5:16PM   Top of Page               Article

The Rider University student who died last week following a night of heavy drinking had a blood alcohol content of .426 and died of alcohol poisoning, the Associated Press is reporting.

Gary DeVercelly, an 18-year-old from Long Beach, California, was a freshman at the New Jersey school and was reportedly a pledge of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.

DeVercelly's death is currently being listed as accidental, but that could be revisited as local police and prosecutors investigate whether DeVercelly's death was hazing-related, said prosecutor's office spokesman Casey DeBlasio.

Friends of DeVercelly said that he told them that he would be drinking vodka during a pledge initiation event at the frat house. The Phi Kappa Tau fraternity has been barred from holding any events as the investigation continues.

National Phi Kappa Tau leaders on Tuesday released a statement mourning DeVercelly's death and saying that the student had passed on to ''Chapter Eternal.''

''Rather than contribute to any unfounded speculation, Phi Kappa Tau's focus continues to remain squarely on providing support to Gary's family, friends and chapter brothers,'' the statement said.

-- Associated Press

Rider probes use of alcohol                                

Task force initiated by student's death  Top of Page          Article

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


LAWRENCE -- Rider University announced yesterday it will start a task force to study the use and abuse of alcohol on campus, a move spurred by the drinking death last week of student and fraternity pledge Gary DeVercelly.

University President Mordechai Rozanski said in a statement that the task force would be led by the university's provost and will be charged with reviewing and assessing Rider's policies on the "use and abuse of alcohol, enforcement, education, outreach, and Greek life, as well as the issue of individual and group responsibility.

The national organization for Phi Kappa Tau, to which DeVer celly was pledging when he died, is sued a statement yesterday titled, "Open Letter to Domain Directors, Chapter Advisors, and Chapter Presidents."

In the statement, the organization said, "Some of you may have read press accounts regarding the recent death of Gary DeVercelly. The investigation of this matter is still being conducted. It likely will be some time before we are able to more fully understand the events of March 28 and 29. Rather than contribute to any unfounded speculation, Phi Kappa Tau's focus continues to remain squarely on provid ing support to Gary's family, friends, and chapter brothers."

In earlier remarks, the fraternity has said there is no evidence that DeVercelly's death was the result of hazing.

Rozanski spoke at a memorial service for DeVercelly on Saturday and said yesterday, "In my remarks at the memorial service, I promised the DeVercelly family that we are committed, as a community, to do all we can to see that a tragedy such as this never happens again."

Rozanski, in the statement, said more information regarding the task force would be forthcoming in the near future.

DeVercelly, an 18-year-old freshman from Long Beach, Calif., died Friday morning after being removed from life support at a Tren ton hospital. He fell unconscious early last Thursday after binge drinking at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity from Wednesday night into Thursday.

Autopsy results showed DeVer celly had a blood alcohol content of .426 percent -- more than five times the legal level for driving.

Also yesterday, in his statement, which was e-mailed to the entire Rider community, Rozanski urged anyone who was at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on the night of Wednesday, March 28, to contact and cooperate with Lawrence police and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, who are jointly probing DeVercelly's death.

Rozanski made the appeal at the request of investigators, his statement said.

Police and prosecutor's detectives are investigating DeVercelly's death, specifically whether the pledge was hazed at the fraternity.

Friends of DeVercelly from his California hometown of Long Beach have said DeVercelly confided to them he would be drinking Absolut Citron last Wednesday night during a pledge initiation event called Big Brother Night, and that he and his "big brother" would be drinking together.

DeVercelly's girlfriend, Diane Poissant, said DeVercelly told her he would not be able to leave the fraternity house until he finished an entire bottle of the lemon-flavored vodka.

The Times has reported that DeVercelly fell unconscious nearly an hour before medical help was summoned to the fraternity house early Thursday.

The Phi Kappa Tau fraternity remains on "administrative suspen sion," which means fraternity brothers may live in the house, but may not hold parties or other outside activities there, officials have said.

Once the police investigation is complete, officials will determine the fate of the fraternity, Rider's Dean of Students Anthony Campbell has said.

Anyone who was at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on the night of March 28 or who has information about the events leading up to DeVercelly's death is asked to contact Lawrence police at (609) 896-1111 or call Lawrence Detective Joseph Lech directly at (609) 844-7133.

Rider moves to curb campus drinking    

By REBECCA SANTANA -- Associated Press Writer
(Published: June 26, 2007)
                    Top of Page            Article

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) Rider University has announced that it will take several steps to curb campus drinking, including banning alcohol at fraternity parties, in response to the death in March of a freshman who was binge drinking.

Gary DeVercelly, 18, of Long Beach, Calif., had a blood alcohol content of 0.426 - more than five times the legal limit for driving - when he died after a night of drinking at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house on the Lawrence Township campus.

In April, the university appointed a task force of faculty, staff and students to come up with ways to address drinking on campus. Its recommendations, issued Monday, will go into full effect this fall.

"The recommendations really serve to keep our promise to the DeVercellys" to address campus alcohol abuse issues, said Rider's dean of students, Anthony Campbell.

Under the new rules, the university will:

- Prohibit alcohol at all social events in residence halls or Greek houses. Sororities did not allow alcohol at parties even before DeVercelly's death.

- Strengthen sanctions for alcohol policy violations, including notifying parents when their son or daughter violates the school's drinking policy.

- Hire a substance abuse prevention and education coordinator.

- Establish a Good Samaritan policy that encourages students to get help for students who have been drinking too much without fear of getting in trouble by campus authorities.

Students who are over the age of 21 would still be allowed to drink alcohol in their rooms, as they are allowed to drink in residence halls.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Gary DeVercelly's mother, Julie, speaking from the family's Long Beach home, declined to discuss the details of the recommendations.

But she said that even if the proposal serves to improve student safety on campus: "It cannot undo or lessen the tremendous hardships and loss our family has suffered over the tragic death of our son, Gary Jr."

---Associated Press writer Chris Newmarker in Lawrence, N.J., contributed to this story


Rider officials, students indicted in hazing death                          Top of Page                   

Unprecedented charging of administrators is warning against alcohol, says prosecutor

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Star-Ledger Staff

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 culpabilty 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 Richter 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.

Richter 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."

Earle Rommel, a university spokesman, said Badgley and Campbell remain at Rider. Asked if they will retain their positions, he said: "We will be evaluating our op tions with our attorneys."

The indictment is sure to raise eyebrows nationwide.

"This case will be watched by every administrator at every college in the country," said Hank Nuwer, an assistant professor at Franklin College in Indiana who has written four books about hazing.

Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, an umbrella association for the nation's colleges and universities, said hazing is illegal in 44 states, including New Jersey. But, she said, she knew of no state where university officials had been criminally prosecuted under the statutes.

DeVercelly pledged the fraternity in February. After he died, friends told the Times of Trenton that he had talked about having to drink an entire bottle of vodka at an upcoming pledge event. By the time he reached a hospital, he was in a coma and never regained consciousness. An autopsy found he had a blood alcohol level of 0.426, more than five times the legal driving limit.

Besides "big/little" night, Phi Kappa Tau pledges participated in scavenger hunts in New York or Philadelphia during the wee hours, investigators said. There was also one night where pledges did pushups and situps in the mud, in the woods.

Bocchini said the pledge period lasted six weeks, each of which had a theme: Unit Week, Code of Si lence Week, Respect Week, Knowledge Week, Trust Week and Hell Week. DeVercelly died in the fourth week.

After police were called to the fraternity house on March 29, they charged 15 people with providing alcohol to underage drinkers; 23 others were issued summonses for underage drinking. Three students were also charged with drug-related offenses.

Three months later, Rider announced a crackdown on alcohol.

During the tragedy Anthony Campbell, the indicted dean, was Rider's main spokesman. He told The Star-Ledger at the time that he rushed to the Phi Kappa Tau house when someone called police, but saw nothing to explain what had been going on.

Yesterday, Bocchini said "photographic" evidence had been presented to the grand jury. He declined to be more specific.

Neither Campbell nor any of the other defendants could not be reached yesterday.

The prosecutor, who said he drank as a fraternity member in college, said he did not think the indictment would change stu dents' behavior. "However, as a re sult of this indictment, colleges, and college kids, are on notice that they will be subject to indictment."

Rider University is a private, co- educational college off Route 206, just north of Trenton, with about 3,700 full-time undergraduates. It has 14 traditional Greek organizations on campus. About 17 percent of students belong to them, according to school officials.

Staff writers Ana M. Alaya, Brian Murray and Lawrence Ragonese contributed to this report.


Tragedy at Rider sparks campus fears   

By: Erin Duffy                    Top of Page                Article

Posted: 8/29/07

Drinking may seem like a rite of passage in college, where keg stands and jello shots sometimes seem as commonplace as textbooks and cramming for exams. Underage drinking is preached against, yet is often treated with a wink and a nod; parents, officials and students know it happens but often seem content to look the other way.

This blissful ignorance was shattered last spring when Gary DeVercelly Jr., a freshman at Rider University, died after excessive drinking at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house where he was pledging. DeVercelly allegedly drank almost an entire bottle of vodka and had a blood alcohol level of 0.426 percent, well above New Jersey's legal limit of .08.

Now, the debate over underage drinking continues, as three Rider students and two officials were indicted on aggravated hazing charges in the beginning of August, although recently there has been speculation that the officials' charges may be dropped.

College administrators have almost never been implicated in the death of a student due to excessive drinking, thus creating a potentially frightening precedent. Of the three students charged, one was the house manager of the fraternity, one the chapter president and one the Spring 2007 pledge master.

Naturally, members of Greek life here at the College are concerned over the negative implications the case brings with it.

"This is a bad representation of Greek life and gives Greek organizations an even worse reputation because of all the negative publicity," junior criminal justice major Matt Johnston, who is a member of Alpha Psi Chi, said.

Other fraternity members echoed this sentiment, expressing nervousness over closer scrutiny by College officials as a consequence of the Rider indictments and the pervasive "Animal House" stereotype of Greek life.

Andrew Spada, senior business administration marketing major and president of Sigma Pi, said in an e-mail, "We have a very responsible Greek system here on the campus, but I am still worried that rather than observing and understanding the situation, the campus will have a knee-jerk reaction and we will see excessive police involvement as we did last fall."

Spada continued, "It isn't an issue of 'cracking down' because there really isn't anything to 'crack down' on. The events that occurred at Rider University were the cause of a flawed Greek system and a lack of proper monitoring by campus life."

Michael Levy, senior accounting major and president of the Phi Alpha Delta fraternity, agreed that the tragedy at Rider was an isolated incident, one not indicative of or representative of Greek life here at the College.

"The truth of the matter is that Greek Life instills positive values in its members ..." Levy said in an e-mail.

"I feel that the charges to administrators and those not directly involved are meant to make administrations across the country examine their students and organizations (not just Greeks) more carefully, and unfortunately, critically," Levy said.

Greeks aren't the only ones feeling the heat. Many freshmen expressed worry over the possibility of Campus Police using stronger enforcement to stop underage drinking and expressed reluctance to comment on the issue or have their name appear in print.

Although the College will not release drinking statistics according to year, Jessica Kerley, sophomore elementary education/math, science and technology major and community advisor did say that the percentage of College students who do drink is less than those who abstain from alcohol use. However, she acknowledged that it is often freshmen who have more problems with excessive drinking, possibly due to their inexperience with heavy drinking.

"Freshmen haven't experienced drinking yet and they don't know their limits," Kerley said. "(Community advisors) have the College alcohol policy and we do our best to keep it enforced. Kids do experiment, though."

Some students suggested that the school do more to prevent excessive or binge drinking, rather than attempting the quixotic feat of completely eradicating underage drinking.

"It is a fool's errand to attempt to eliminate the drinking on this campus. Rather, the campus as a whole should take a pro-active approach to educating the community about the dangers of binge drinking and the risks involved," Spada said.

Freshman music education major David Ortiz agreed. "I don't see much of a problem with (underage drinking) if people stay controlled," he said. "The problem is people don't know their limits."
© Copyright 2007 Signal
Rider officials must end underage drinking


Rider's proposed campus-wide alcohol ban is a precaution that appears justified.                    Top of Page

Published: August 31. 2007 3:10AM

Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini has acknowledged it would have been difficult to secure convictions against two administrators in a recent Rider University hazing death.

Bocchini has dropped charges against Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley. They were the first administrators ever charged criminally in a hazing incident that led to a pledge's death.

Still, Rider's administration cannot dismiss responsibility for underage drinking on its campus. Two young pledges who could not legally consume or buy liquor drank enough alcohol to poison themselves. Freshman Gary De- Vercelly Jr., 18, of Long Beach, Calif., never recovered. His blood-alcohol level was 0.426 percent when he died on March 30, nearly five times the legal limit for driving in New Jersey.

Certainly, drinking is too often part of the college experience in this country. But the death of DeVercelly has rightly prompted Rider officials to reconsider whether alcohol belongs on a campus where about half of the undergraduate population cannot legally drink.

Rider is planning to ban alcohol use on its campus and require all freshmen to take a new alcohol education course.

The hazing deaths and injuries from excessive drinking that continually occur across the nation should prompt more college administrators to question alcohol consumption on campuses. Since 2005, there have been 86 student deaths related to hazing, pledging and rushing during Greek initiations -- 82 percent of the deaths were alcohol-related, according to

Students might complain about a strictly enforced campus drinking ban, particularly those in private Greek housing. But apparently, some students need limits to be set for them.

Some students fail to understand that alcohol can kill, and not only when one is behind the wheel. Drinking a lot in a short amount of time, as authorities said DeVercelly did, can overwhelm the body and poison the system.

A campus-wide alcohol ban might inconvenience the adults who can legally drink and do so responsibly. Yet, no other Rider family should face the grief of losing a son or daughter from on-campus binging.

Rider administrators might not be criminally responsible in the death of DeVercelly. But they are responsible for doing everything they can to ensure another student on campus doesn't drink to deadly excess.
Published: August 31. 2007 3:10AM


A sip of desire

Monday, October 08, 2007                                         Top of Page


In his column "Cultivating moral fiber" (Sept. 27), Gregory Sullivan highlighted the tragic alcohol-related death of a Rider University student a year ago. Sullivan doubts that the preventative measures the college has taken since go deep enough. He believes that the roots of alcohol problems originated back in the permissive 1960s. Yet our European heritage suggests a considerable tradition of alcohol use going back hundreds of years.

The drinking song from the operetta "The Student Prince" of the 1920s reveals an old university tradition of drinking that is rather common here as well as in Europe. NASCAR racing, bootleggers who souped up their cars to outrun the police during prohibition, originated that most popularly viewed sport. Even our national anthem was a recycled drinking song. The roots of alcohol use are deep in our culture and can be traced at least as far as the Bacchanalia of An cient Rome.

Generations ago, most college students came from wealthy families. For the upper class, education was not a privilege, it was a right. Along with that right was a college lifestyle not too dissimilar from their parents', and that frequently included alcohol consumption. Sul livan points to "unrestrained indul gence." Perhaps too many of our young people are behaving like the spoiled rich kids of generations past.

If unrestrained indulgence blossomed in the 60s, the flames have since been fanned by billions of advertising dollars and easy credit.

If a month goes by and I don't receive a new credit card, which I immediately cut into tiny pieces, I feel neglected. If our ancestors could return and see that 60 percent of the nation is locked to credit card debt and that China has bought most of that debt, they would think we had completely lost our moral fiber.

It seems it is always the negative side of the '60s that gets all of the attention. But on the positive side, women gathered the moral fiber to convince their husbands that their egos would not break if their wives contributed to the work place. This enables millions of retirees today to be more financially independent, although many barely so, because often wages for women have been ridiculously low.

Alcohol abuse is somewhat unique because it is such a complex problem. For example, the hypothalamus, which regulates self- control, matures much later in men than in women and is adversely affected by alcohol use. Not only is alcohol use deeply rooted in our European heritage, it is supported by a legal industry with lots of money and momentum in Washington.

Cultivating moral fiber is largely about dealing with desire. One of the goals of college is to help young people deal with desire. This occurs as students become secure and true individuals, and learn to find meaning and soul in everyday life. According to author Thomas Moore, a Boston psychotherapist, the only way we can have true community, on or off campus, is to develop true individuals.

However, most of us, even secure individuals, at some time in our life need the support of people around us. Staffs in our schools and colleges are trained to recognize the signs that indicate a student is in trouble. We also must do a better job at letting students know that there is no shame in asking for help, whether that help is from AA or some of the many other services colleges and communities offer. We must also teach young people that there are times when we must be our brother's keeper, in that we all benefit from having friends that won't let us down.

Producing true individuals in a world so lonely and full of distractions is not easy. True individuals will feel secure enough and happy with themselves enough to make their own decisions and stand by their beliefs. They will be able to enjoy the individuality of someone else. Without that feeling, we will always be caught up in power plays and not really "connected at the heart." That is when guys do crazy things to prove how manly they are and end up hurting themselves or others. We may join a group be cause its members think the same way we do, but real community is made of true individuals.

When we ignore alcohol abuse, drug abuse, physical or verbal abuse on or off campus, we are really giving that behavior our stamp of approval. We become enablers. There are lots of ways to intervene, and interventions do work. It's a good place to start and a way to show we care.

Joseph Stroman, who fills in as a substitute principal, is retired from a 43-year career in education, the last 31 years as a supervisor and administrator within the Bensalem Township School District.

© 2007  The Times of Trenton

© 2007 All Rights Reserved.

Family sues Rider over death

 Son died of alcohol poisoning during fraternity event

Saturday, December 29, 2007           Top of Page                      Article


LAWRENCE -- The family of Rider University freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr., who died last spring of alcohol poisoning after an apparent fraternity hazing, filed suit against the school yesterday claiming officials did not sufficiently supervise the on-campus fraternity house where the drinking occurred.

Gary and Julie DeVercelly have filed a wrongful death suit naming the university, Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and four members of the Rider chapter of PKT, which was closed by school officials after De Vercelly's death. The suit seeks an unspecified amount of money for DeVercelly's death.

Reached yesterday, the DeVer cellys said they had tried to settle with the university and force changes to student policies, but school officials resisted. The couple said the Christmas season has been particularly hard without their son.

"Since Gary's death, we have given Rider every opportunity to do right by our family and make the changes necessary to protect other students," the couple said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Rider has refused to resolve this matter without litigation. Our lawsuit identifies specifically how Rider University caused the death of our son as well as aided and abetted the fraternity and others in doing the same. Our lawsuit also seeks to hold Rider, and all others involved, financially responsible for their reckless conduct that caused Gary's death and forever harmed our family."

In response to the suit, Rider President Mordechai Rozanski also referenced an attempted settlement, but said the university was willing to continue talks.

"The university, the DeVercelly family and their legal representatives met in mid-December to find an appropriate means of settling the family's claim against Rider without the need for litigation," Rozanski said. "That effort was not successful, and despite the university's willingness to continue the dialogue, the family chose today to file a civil action against Rider and certain individuals. We disagree with the allegations in that filing and will contest them vigorously."

The national office of Phi Kappa Tau has been largely silent since DeVercelly's death, initially denying the incident was the result of hazing. Reached by e-mail yesterday, Steve Hartman, chief executive officer of the national office in Ohio, would not comment on the lawsuit, saying he had not yet seen it.

"During this holiday season, we continue to be mindful of the De Vercelly family and what they are experiencing," he said in the e-mail.

The lawsuit alleges that the university placed live-in fraternity houses under far less scrutiny than other campus residence halls. Stu dent house managers hired to oversee the fraternity houses were nominated by the fraternity membership and faced less scrutiny than their counterparts in the non- Greek residence halls, the suit al leges.

In addition to the university and the national fraternity, the suit also names four students, all members of the local PKT chapter.

Three of the four, House Manager Adriano DiDonato, President Mike Torney and Pledge Master Dominic Olsen were also named in a criminal indictment last summer, while the fourth, Vincent Calogero, was not charged.

The suit alleges that as part of the initiation event, DeVercelly, 18, drank Absolut vodka during the fraternity's "Big/Little" night.

After finishing more than two thirds of the bottle, authorities have said DeVercelly passed out. An hour later, fraternity members dialed 911 and DeVercelly was rushed to an area hospital. He never regained consciousness and died March 30. His blood alcohol level was 0.426, more than five times the legal limit to drive.

Washington, D.C., attorney Douglas Fierberg, who represents the DeVercellys, said it was the four fraternity members' inclusion or approval of the ritual and their failure to get DeVercelly the help he needed when he was dying that caused their inclusion in the suit.

"I think it's fair to say they di rectly or through the actions of their fraternity brothers put Gary in a position of peril where he needed their help to stay alive," he said. "They were in a position to get Gary the help he needed to live and he would have lived if they had sought that help."

Law enforcement officials established that fraternity members waited an hour after DeVercelly first became ill before summoning paramedics.

None of the four could be reached for comment yesterday.

Fierberg struck an ominous tone yesterday when he alluded to the university's culpability in the suit.

"Rider University (officials) know that this litigation will expose serious additional wrongdoing on behalf of the university and its personnel, which we are currently prevented from disclosing," he said. "When that happens, and it will, Rider will have many new questions to answer."

University officials would not comment on specific allegations contained in the suit.

As a result of his death, a grand jury indicted two university administrators as well as the three stu dents who were members of the PKT fraternity.

Charges against the two administrators were dropped in August and both DiDonato and Olsen qualified for pre-trial intervention, which allowed the charges to be dropped after a period of community service. Torney refused PTI and could still face trial.

In the wake of DeVercelly's death, the Phi Kappa Tau chapter was closed and the university instituted several reforms, including the formation of a new university-employed housing director position to live in each of the campus's fraternity houses.

"We are confident with the continuing implementation of the initiatives that we will make Rider a safer, healthier and stronger learning community for our students," said Debbie Stasolla, who was vice chairwoman of a presidential panel that looked at the university's alcohol and fraternity life policies after DeVercelly's death.

Contact Darryl Isherwood at or (609) 989-5708.

© 2007  The Times of Trenton

© 2007 All Rights Reserved.


Torney agrees to pay $150,000 in civil suit

Posted By Rider News Web On April 18, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

By Jess Hoogendoorn                                              Top of Page                      Article

The former Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) president has reached a settlement in the wrongful death suit brought by the family of freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr.,18, of Long Beach, Calif.
Michael Torney, 22, of Randolph, N.J., agreed to pay the DeVercelly family $150,000 and provide information pertinent to the lawsuit against the University and the national fraternity. The settlement will be paid by the Torney family’s homeowners insurance, The Times of Trenton reported.
The DeVercelly family filed the civil suit last December in response to DeVercelly’s death on March 30, 2007. DeVercelly died at a Trenton hospital two days after a night of heavy drinking at the PKT fraternity house on the University campus. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.426 percent.
Torney attended the County College of Morris for one year before transferring to Rider. He now attends Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
Torney is being represented by criminal defense lawyers Michael Rogers and Edward Bilinkas, who was later hired as co-counsel. Rogers asserts that Torney was not at the fraternity party and did not supply any of the alcohol. Torney is said to have been studying for an exam and therefore had no involvement in the events that led to DeVercelly’s death, The Times reported.
Although Torney has settled in the civil case, he still faces a criminal charge of aggravated hazing. Aggravated hazing is considered a fourth-degree offense and carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine that is not to exceed $10,000, according to a Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office press release. Torney’s next court date for the criminal charges has not been scheduled yet, according to Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onofrio.
Two other fraternity members, seniors Adriano DiDonato, and Dominic Olsen, along with Anthony Campbell, dean of students, and Ada Badgley, director of Greek Life, were also charged with aggravated hazing. DiDonato and Olsen were granted Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) to avoid trial and a possible prison term. Torney was unable to apply for PTI because of a prior offense. The charges against the two administrators were dropped.
The wrongful death lawsuit also named the University and the national fraternity.
The original figures for the suit were $50 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages, as well as other damages. The insurance company of the former Rider chapter of PKT has been asked to pay a claim to the DeVercelly family. However, the company filed its own lawsuit in federal court in hopes of alleviating itself of any financial obligation.
The suit against Rider is ongoing. The University was accused of mismanaging and disregarding its fraternities and having less supervision over the Greek houses than the residence halls.
The University disagrees with the allegations and believes it took the correct action in the aftermath of the incident.

Article printed from The Rider News:


Frat prez gets break in Rider booze death


07/22/2008                       Top of Page                                         Article

TRENTON - A Mercer County judge yesterday let the president of a now-defunct Rider University fraternity apply for pretrial intervention rather than face trial in the alcohol-related hazing death of a pledge.

Michael Torney, 23, is charged with fourth-degree hazing in connection with the drinking death of Gary DeVercelly Jr., 18, of Long Branch, Calif., on March 30, 2007.

Torney was one of three Phi Kappa Tau fraternity members - including Dominic Olsen, 21, of Kenilworth, and Adriano DiDonato, 22, of Princeton - charged along with Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Director of Greek Life Ada Badgley in the binge-drinking death during a fraternity pledge hazing party at the fraternity on campus.

Olsen and DiDonato were both accepted into the pretrial intervention program in October 2007, where they must serve 36 months probation, do 100 hours of community service, undergo alcohol counseling and pay $200 in fines.
Once they complete that, their records will be cleared of charges, authorities said.

Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini dropped the charges against Campbell and Badgley on Aug. 27, 2007, because there wasn't enough evidence to convict them.
Assistant Prosecutor Skyler Weissman said he wasn't opposed to Torney applying for PTI, even though a prior marijuana conviction could preclude him from being accepted, officials said.

Defense attorney Edward Balinkas said he has worked toward getting the charges against Torney dropped.
"From day one we were looking for dismissal," Balinkas said.

"If I can accomplish that through PTI, then that's the best for everyone's interest."

Rider University student sentenced to three years probation in fatal fraternity hazing

Posted by cdelacru December 17, 2008 09:16AM   Top of Page                    Article

The last defendant in a fatal hazing at Rider University was sentenced to three years' probation yesterday, according to The Times of Trenton.

Michael Torney, 22, of Randolph had pleaded guilty to hazing, a disorderly persons charge, in the March 2007 incident in which freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr. died. A more serious charge of aggravated hazing was dismissed in return for his guilty plea.

DeVercelly, 18, died after drinking nearly two-thirds of a bottle of vodka during an initiation ritual of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. Torney had been president of the now-defunct fraternity.

Two other fraternity brothers, Dominic Olsen, 22, the pledge master, and Adriano DiDonato, 23, were allowed into pretrial intervention, a program for first-time offenders that can lead to their criminal records being expunged.

A Mercer County grand jury brought hazing charges against two university administrators, sending a wave of consternation throughout academia nationwide. However, the prosecutor's office later dismissed those charges.

After DeVercelly's death, Rider, located in Lawrenceville, prohibited social events with alcohol at residence halls and Greek houses, added an alcohol education program for freshmen and began a Good Samaritan police effort that encourages students to seek immediate help for ill students without fear of campus repercussions.

In addition to probation, Superior Court Judge Mitchel Ostrer in Trenton ordered Torney to perform 100 hours of community service, to continue counseling for substance abuse and to "be abstinent from alcohol." If Torney does not comply, he faces jail time, Ostrer said.

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