A student who suffered severe brain damage after he was forced to drink a bottle of vodka in a college hazing incident remains unable to see, walk or speak eight months later, his attorney says.
University of Missouri student Danny Santulli, 19, was released from a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado this week and returned home to Praire Eden, Minnesota, where his parents will provide round-the-clock care, attorney David Bianchi told The Independent.
“It’s a very sad situation. He’s got massive brain damage, he’s lost his eyesight, he’s blind, he cannot walk and he cannot communicate in any way,” Mr Bianchi said.
“You never say never but at this point it’s been about eight months and there’s been no significant change in his condition.”
Mr Santulli’s parents were “remarkable people” and his mother had quit her job as a banker to care for him, Mr Bianchi said.
Mr Santulli was a freshman at the University of Missouri Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, known as Fiji, when he suffered alcohol poisoning during an initiation ceremony on 20 October 2021.
According to a lawsuit filed by Mr Bianchi against 23 defendants, Mr Santulli was blindfolded in a room at the campus fraternity and pressured to drink a full bottle of Tito’s vodka by his “pledge father” Ryan Delanty.
He was found unconscious at the frat house by another member who drove him to hospital.
By the time Mr Santulli reached hospital he had suffered cardiac arrest and staff had to restart his heart. He registered a blood alcohol level five times the legal limit.
Mr Bianchi told The Independent he had settled that case with all 23 defendants, who included students, officers and board advisors for Phi Gamma Delta and their chapter.
On Monday, the attorney filed an amended petition against fraternity brothers Samuel Gandhi and Alec Wetzler.
The amended lawsuit alleviates Mr Wetzler put a tube into Mr Santulli’s mouth and poured beer into his throat, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
Mr Ghandi failed to assist his fraternity brother when it was obvious he was dangerously intoxicated, the suit claims.
Mr Wetzler has also been charged with misdemeanour counts of supplying alcohol to a minor and possession of alcohol by a minor, the only person to be criminally charged over the incident.
Mr Bianchi, a Florida-based attorney with 42 years of hazing litigation experience, told The Independent that universities are not doing enough to protect students.
“The universities cannot be babysitting these guys every night of the week, it’s impossible,” he said.
“But I think that the discipline that they have dispensed has not been strong enough because the students keep hazing anyway. I think the only solution at this point is to immediately expel everybody involved in a hazing event, and file criminal charges.”
Sixty-five students have died in college hazing incidents since 2000, including several in near-identical circumstances to Mr Santulli.
Prior to the hazing pledge night, Mr Santulli had endured a “month of abuse” at the hands of the fraternity, according to the lawsuit.
In one incident, he was allegedly ordered to climb into a trash can with broken glass.
The 19-year-old badly cut his foot in that incident and needed stitches and crutches.
“Danny was wooed with promises of friendship and brotherhood. After he became a pledge, Danny was little more than a serf,” Mr Bianchi said earlier this year.
“He was ordered to be at the beck and call of senior fraternity members at all hours, which eventually led to him abandoning his paid-for dorm and sleeping at the chapter house.”
His duties allegedly included getting food, alcohol and marijuana for the older boys on command, cleaning the bedrooms in the house and being forced to buy things for the fraternity members with his own money.
It all took its toll on the teenager with his grades suffering and him being under constant stress and sleep deprivation, his attorney said.
Just two days before the hazing incident, Mr Santulli broke down in front of his sister telling her he was struggling with the stress of pledging.
His family said they begged him to quit but he didn’t.
The night of the hazing incident, around 40 pledges were made to drink full bottles of spirits, the suit alleged.
Some of the pledges had their bottles tapped to their hands for added pressure and marijuana and cocaine was also “available” at the party, the suit claimed.