A pair of schools officials, including the dean of students, and three students from Rider University have the campus community stunned after being charged with “aggravated hazing” in the death of a freshman student that died following a night of binge drinking at a fraternity house late last March, authorities said Friday.
The charges are the end results of an investigation launched into the March 30 death of Gary DeVercelly, 18, of Long Beach, Calif., who died a day after he was admitted into Capital Health System's Fuld hospital in Trenton, N.J., following a night of heavy drinking at a Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house.
His blood alcohol level was .426, more than five times the legal limit, when he was pronounced dead.
"The ramifications of this for colleges and universities in New Jersey, and across the country, is that it will send some kind of message that the standards of college life, when it relates to alcohol, need to be policed carefully," Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr. told the Associated Press.
Further action related to the officials and students involved is to be decided next week, university spokesman Earle Rommel said.
"This has been a very painful time for the university family and the university," he said. "We recognize that alcohol abuse by college students is a national challenge."
The Times of Trenton previously reported that friends and classmates of the freshman reportedly informed authorities that DeVercelly told them that he would be drinking vodka during a pledge initiation event at the fraternity house.
According to a statement released by the Mercer County prosecutors office, the five officials and students, all New Jersey residents, charged were:
The five officials and students charged were Ada Badgley, 31, the university's director of Greek life; Anthony Campbell, 51, the dean of students; Adriano DiDonato, 22, a student who was also the residence director and house master of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house; Dominic Olsen, 21, pledge master of Spring 2007 Phi Kappa Tau pledge class; and Michael J. Torney, 21, the chapter president.
Bocchini, the Mercer County prosecutor, wouldn't reveal the precise evidence that resulted in a grand jury indicting the five. Nonetheless, he previously stated that the investigation yielded evidence that showed that several of the pledges drank entire bottles of hard liquor in under an hour the night DeVercelly died.
Bocchini added that the grand jury found that the five mentioned above "knowingly or recklessly organized, promoted, facilitated or engaged in conduct" which resulted in injury to DeVercelly, as well as William Williams, a freshman who was also hospitalized the night DeVercelly died but survived.
“No one has been arrested yet but all five have been notified of the developments,” Mercer County Public Information Officer Casey A. DeBlasio told FOXNews.com Friday. “Arrangements will soon be made for these people come in and be arraigned.”
In June, Campbell, a popular and generally well-liked member of the school’s administration, announced a set of new policies made by Rider in response to DeVercelly’s death. A task force of faculty, staff and students developed the policies.
In addition, the school also “dissolved” the Phi Kappa Tau chapter on its campus, according to a statement released Friday by the university.
“We take this matter very seriously and will carefully evaluate these charges and determine appropriate steps to be taken,” Rider President Mordechai Rozanski said in the statement.
If convicted, the officials and fraternity members charged Friday would face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In conjunction with the five individuals charged, another 15 people have been charged in municipal court with providing alcohol to people underage, and 23 have been charged with underage drinking related to the March party, Bocchini said.
Law enforcement's search of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity house also resulted in three students being charged with drug-related offenses.
Speaking from his home in California, Gary DeVercelly Jr.'s father, Gary DeVercelly Sr., said the family was grateful for the indictments but still devastated over the death.
"We find it terribly disturbing that the university and its officials were apparently directly involved in the circumstances leading to our son's death," DeVercelly Sr. said.
The indictments mark one of the first times that university officials have been criminally charged in a suspected hazing death, said Doug Fierberg, a lawyer who has represented hazing victims since the mid-1990s.
Fierberg, who has been retained by the DeVercellys, said the family hasn't yet decided whether to file a lawsuit.
A message left at Badgley's university office was not immediately returned and a home number was not listed. Campbell didn't immediately return a call to his house. Torney's lawyer also didn't immediately return a call.
Paul Norris, a lawyer for DiDonato, said he couldn't understand why his client was facing charges over a part-time university job. DiDonato was in the fraternity house but wasn't present at the late March party, Norris said.
"He thought he was taking on a job as an informal mediator. But he didn't expect to be in this role that he's somehow responsible as a police officer," Norris said.
Olsen's lawyer, Tim Donohue, said his client was still grieving DeVercelly's death and was so shocked to hear about the indictment that he couldn't speak.
"He was so choked up," Donohue said.
The national council of Oxford, Ohio-based Phi Kappa Tau voted July 22 to suspend the Rider University chapter's charter, said the fraternity's chief executive, Steve Hartman.
The national fraternity was investigating how a local chapter may have developed a custom of a drinking-based initiation, especially when alumni of the chapter from 10 or 20 years ago couldn't recall such activities, Hartman said.
"We like to think we know in a general sense what's going on without being there," Hartman said.
Students have since gathered to show support for the charged Rider officials. More than 650 current and former students joined a Facebook group entitled “Support Dean Campbell/Ada at Rider” and some stated that they were planning to express their outrage in a protest outside Bocchini’s office this coming Friday.
"We, the students and alumni of Rider University, express our support for Dean Anthony Campbell and Ada Badgley in the wake of their recent indictments," a letter posted on the Facebook group read. "As a result of their careers and personal attributes, both Dean Campbell and Ada have touched the world of so many students, many of whom would not be who they are today without their advice and support."
"Tony and Ada have done more for this community than one letter can say," one posting read. "Every time I've ever needed Tony for anything hes always gone to bat for me. Ever since I was a freshman I knew I could always rely on him."
As for the possible protest, DeBlasio had no comment, reported The Times of Trenton Monday.
FOXNews.com’s Leo D. Rommel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.