MINNEAPOLIS — Bright-eyed and ready to tackle a college career, Eden Prairie High School graduate Danny Santulli picked the University of Missouri as his choice of higher education.
There, like so many freshmen all over the nation, he sought camaraderie through Greek Life, and became a Phi Gamma Delta pledge. Like so many others, he was hazed.
"In 30 years of representing hazing victims, this is the worst hazing injury that I've ever seen," Santulli family attorney David Bianchi said.
He said the night of Oct. 19, 2021, Danny, along with 40 other pledges participated in "Pledge Dad Reveal Night." This was a night during which pledges were introduced to their "pledge dads."
Part of the tradition involved a lot of alcohol. The suit describes a night that also involved cocaine. "In keeping with tradition, some of the pledges had their family bottle of alcohol taped to their hand," the suit reads. "When they wanted to stop drinking, peer pressure was applied to stop that from happening."
"A lot of peer pressure is applied to get them to do that," Bianchi said. "Danny started to drink the vodka, and by the time he was done, the alcohol was gone, and he ended up passing out on a couch and no one did anything to help him."
The lawsuit says Danny was found unresponsive at around midnight, which at that point, the fraternity brothers did not call 911, but drove him to a hospital instead.
There, his heart was restarted after having been in cardiac arrest. He was put on a ventilator. His blood alcohol level was 0.468 — nearly six times the legal driving limit.
This left the freshman paralyzed, unable to move and unable to communicate. He's been in that state since the night of the incident.
"We are more than three months since this happened, and he is unable to communicate but he is breathing on his own, and his parents are at his bedside; one of the two parents at his side everyday," Bianchi explained.
Bianchi says that night was merely a culmination of all the things the brothers allegedly put Danny through. The hazing was weeks long, leaving him sleep deprived and with declining grades. The lawsuit describes how Danny was forced to stay at the fraternity house so the fraternity brothers could make him run errands and be at their disposal at all hours of the night.
"I've had way too many hazing cases around the U.S., and in every single case, the people that do the hazing, the very first words out of their mouth are they want to blame the victim," Bianchi said.
He highlighted a dangerous system of peer pressure that according to him, has killed 70 freshman pledges across the country since the year 2000.
"Nobody put a gun to his head to do this, but it was the peer pressure these fraternity members are so good at," Bianchi said. "It gets these young pledges to do things that they would never otherwise do. Nobody in their right mind would drink an entire bottle of alcohol. You couldn't do it, your body couldn't even ingest it."
"I do hope this case is a part of the change," Bianchi continued. "And I hope the Santulli family can convince others we don't need to sacrifice anymore young people in order to perpetuate these totally out-of-control, dangerous and illegal fraternity traditions."
The lawsuit is over 50 pages long and has 23 defendants. The international headquarters of Phi Gamma Delta sent this statement in response to the suit:
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Danny and the Santulli family during this difficult time.
We have received the civil complaint and are reviewing it. The chapter at the University of Missouri is suspended by the International Fraternity and we continue to provide support and cooperation when requested by local authorities as they pursue their investigation. We expect all chapters and members to follow the law and abide by the Fraternity’s policies which prohibit hazing and the provision of alcohol to minors."
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