The family of a California college student who died during a grueling fraternity hazing hike sued the organization and the school Wednesday, saying the young man’s death was senseless and easily preventable.
Armando Villa attended Cal State University Northridge and died a year ago after collapsing during an 18-mile hike organized by Pi Kappa Phi. The group was hiking in blazing hot temperatures with little water and inadequate shoes, a school investigation found. The school concluded that hazing was to blame for the 19-year-old’s death.
Villa’s mother and father filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the university, school administrators and the fraternity, alleging negligence and hazing. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and is seeking unspecified damages.
"We're just looking for a little closure and justice," Villa's mother, Betty Serrato, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "They've ruined a life and broken a family."
The suit claims frat members forced pledges to go on the dangerous hike without adequate supplies as a last ritual before they could become official members. The lawsuit says the university had a responsibility to oversee fraternity activities and should’ve been aware of and stopped any hazing activities.
The national fraternity's CEO, Mark Timmes, declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to reiterate that the organization closed its chapter at the school after Villa's death.
"Our thoughts and prayers remain with Armando's family and all those affected by his passing," Timmes said in a statement.
The university declined to comment on the litigation, but said in a statement that any claim that the school "was in any way responsible for the tragic death of Armando Villa is untrue."
The school cited its investigation and said it banned the fraternity from ever operating on campus again.
"The death of Armando was a tragedy and our hearts continue to go out to his family and friends," the statement said.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has opened a criminal investigation into the death, but no reports have been released.
Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Biddle, who investigated the case, said he has turned it over to the district attorney's office to consider whether charges should be filed. A district attorney's spokesman said the case was under review.
"We want the truth. We still want to know what happened out there," Serrato said. "We deserve that much at least."
In September, university President Dianne Harrison condemned hazing while addressing Villa's death.
"Hazing is stupid, senseless, dangerous and against the law in California," Harrison said. "It is a vestige of a toxic way of thinking in which it was somehow OK to degrade, humiliate and potentially harm others."
Harrison is among those named in the lawsuit. She echoed the university statement through a school spokesman Wednesday but declined to comment further.
The Associated Press contributed to this report