Lawsuits: Louisiana frat hazed pledge before deadly crash
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Fraternity members at a Louisiana university hazed a pledge and kept him awake for three days before he fell asleep at the wheel of a car that struck and killed another student, according to a pair of lawsuits.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette student Michael Gallagher Jr., whose car struck and killed 23-year-old Rustam Nizamutdinov last November, sued the Kappa Sigma fraternity and university officials last Friday. Nizamutdinov’s mother, who lives in Uzbekistan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and some of its members in September.
Gallagher’s suit claims university officials knew or should have known about a “persistent pattern of hazing” by Kappa Sigma chapter members before the deadly collision. It also accuses the fraternity of failing to properly supervise members or take adequate steps to prevent hazing.
“There is no way that (the university) would not have known what occurred or what was going on relative to hazing,” said Barry Sallinger, the Gallagher family’s attorney.
The suits come amid a broad review of hazing policies in the state’s higher-education system after the recent death of a Louisiana State University student.
Gov. John Bel Edwards called for system presidents to review campus policies on hazing, alcohol and drugs after 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver died in an alleged hazing incident. After a meeting Thursday with university presidents at the governor’s mansion, Edwards said the system has “robust” anti-hazing policies in place but can do more to prevent tragedies like Gruver’s death.
“Obviously, those policies don’t always translate into having those campuses be as safe as we want them to be for all of our students,” he added. “We can never be satisfied that we’ve done our best.”
Ten people were arrested last month on misdemeanor hazing charges in the Sept. 14 death of Gruver, an 18-year-old LSU freshman from Roswell, Georgia, who was trying to join the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. A coroner said the freshman’s blood-alcohol content was more than six times the legal limit for driving when he died after a night of drinking at the fraternity’s house.
Four LSU fraternities have been suspended or closed since Gruver’s death.
Gallagher’s suit says he was forced to be a designated driver for drunken Kappa Sigma chapter members and was badly sleep-deprived as he drove home early Nov. 6, 2016. His car drifted onto the shoulder of a road and struck Nizamutdinov, who was walking home to his apartment from a friend’s house.
KATC-TC reports that toxicology reports showed no sign that Gallagher was impaired at the time of the crash.
Gallagher called his parents after the collision. They came to the scene and found their child in shock, unable to remember what happened, their suit says. Gallagher’s parents also found Nizamutdinov’s body lying nearby.
Sallinger, the family’s attorney, said Gallagher pleaded no contest to a traffic offense — careless driving — and was ordered to pay a fine and perform community service.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette said in a statement that it investigated the hazing allegations after Nizamutdinov’s death and suspended the Kappa Sigma chapter in February. The fraternity’s national leadership revoked the chapter’s charter in July, the university said.
“The university supported the disciplinary action by the national organization,” the university said. “Out of respect for the judicial process and the multiple parties involved in this tragedy, the university has no further comment.”
James Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, said its Lafayette school responded “quickly and effectively” in suspending the fraternity.
“The lawsuit just brings to light the number of lives that are impacted when a tragedy like this occurs,” he said.