(CN) – A Cornell University sophomore died of alcohol poisoning, alone in a fraternity house, after other students kidnapped and blindfolded him, bound his hands and feet, and forced him to drink too much, the student’s mother claims in Kings County Court.
Marie Lourdes Andre sued four members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, seeking more than $10 million for the death of her only son, George Desdunes.
The Brooklyn teen was pronounced dead from alcohol poisoning on Feb. 25, 2011, at Cayuga Medical Center, according to the complaint. Andre says Desdunes had a blood alcohol content of 0.409, which is over five times the legal limit.
“On Feb. 25, 2011, George Desdunes was kidnapped by fraternity pledges of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity (‘SAE’) after he called the chapter house requesting a ride back to his room,” the complaint states. “The kidnapping and ensuing events were part of a long-standing fraternity ritual that was taught, authorized and encouraged by SAE chapter officers and members. The pledges bound George by his wrists and ankles with zip ties and duct tape, and bound his neck with rope-like material. The pledges drove George to a townhouse, quizzed him about SAE history and lore, and compelled him to consume alcohol until he lost consciousness. George passed out numerous times. He was unable to care for himself and required prompt, emergency medical treatment. Instead, he was taken by the pledges, still bound at the wrists and ankles, and dumped on a couch in the SAE house where he was unattended and left to die. When George was found in the morning by the company hired to clean the SAE house, unresponsive and still bound at the wrists, ankles and neck, one pledge sought to cover-up the wrongdoing by having the zip-ties removed from the scene before police arrived. George’s blood alcohol level was .409 percent when measured by medical personnel hours after the ritual ended. George’s death was a result of hazing, as that term is defined generally, under the laws of the State of New York, and the Guidebook of Rights, Responsibilities, Requirements and Resources (the ‘guidebook’) of Cornell University.”
Desdunes was 19 years old, an aspiring doctor, when the hazing ritual ended his life, according to the complaint.
Andre claims that fraternity rituals and traditions have caused numerous deaths and injuries over the years.
At least one student has died in fraternity pledge activities every year since 1970, according to the complaint. Sigma Alpha Epsilon itself ignored the role of fraternity rituals in “a staggering number of serious injuries and deaths,” Andre says.
“Drinking alcohol in excessive and dangerous amounts has been part of SAE’s initiation rituals for many years,” the complaint states. “For decades, numerous deaths have occurred at SAE chapter-houses from these very circumstances, as well as in other national fraternities. The risks are well-documented and unparalleled, including at SAE’s chapter at Cornell. In 2006, SAE was instructed to ‘maintain consistent contact’ with its local chapter after the university discovered a manual purportedly requiring new members to clean vomit out of a car, purchase illegal drugs, and perform sexual acts. That such dangerous traditions, misconduct, injuries, and deaths continue unabated, year after year, is the result of SAE’s negligent, wrongful oversight and mismanagement of its organization’s, chapters’, and members’ activities. SAE’s refusal to make necessary changes is based, in part, upon its management structure that ensures that all critical safety policies and practices can be implemented, or safely revised, only if approved by its undergraduate members, two-thirds (2/3) of whom are underage and have absolutely no knowledge of the risks involved, have themselves joined SAE to share in the binge, and have never been held accountable for the consequences of their votes and their fraternity’s failure to implement change.”
Andre says her son was an active and initiated member of SAE, and his frat brothers kidnapped and hazed him as part of a ritual that encourages pledges to kidnap initiated brothers and quiz them, “to demonstrate to the pledges that the fraternity brothers know as much about the history of SAE as the pledges are required to learn during the pledge process.”
“Per this pledging tradition, if a kidnapped brother misses an answer to the pledges’ questions, he is plied with and compelled to drink alcohol, often while blindfolded and tied up,” the complaint states.
“This ritual, like many other rituals planned by the fraternity for the pledges, involved the provision and consumption of alcohol by participants, all of whom were under the lawful age of consumption in the State of New York.”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon is not named as a defendant.
Andre sued SAE pledge educator Kirkland Burthey and three students who were pledging the frat at the time of Desdunes’ death: Edward Williams, Idan Levy, Roberto Feldman.
The complaint describes Desdunes’ final hours.
“On Feb. 25, 2011, at approximately 1:00 am, George was in the Collegetown area of Ithaca. As part of the pledge process at SAE, pledges are required to be at the fraternity house in the evenings and be available to provide rides for active brothers. George called the fraternity house asking for a ride back to the New York Alpha fraternity house and spoke with a pledge who was serving as a designated driver that evening. Previously that evening, George’s roommate had locked the door to their room to prevent pledges from kidnapping him while he slept. At the time of this call, George was not intoxicated.
“When the designated driver picked up George, there were multiple pledges in the vehicle. The pledges kidnapped George pursuant to the fraternity pledge ritual and requirements.
“George was blindfolded and taken to Cornell University Campus Townhouse Apartment B3, the residence of an SAE pledge. George’s wrists and ankles were bound with zip ties and duct tape. A rope-like material was tied around his neck. Present at the apartment were SAE pledges, defendant Williams, defendant Levy, and defendant Feldman. Another SAE member, Gregory Wyler, was also there because he had been kidnapped by pledges. Other pledges and members may have been present.
“Defendant Williams, defendant Levy, and defendant Feldman, and other pledges, began asking George a series of questions related to SAE. When George answered a question incorrectly, he was compelled to do exercises like crunches or sit-ups or to consume various substances, including water, flavored syrups, sugar, and vodka.
“George became increasingly ill from alcohol consumption, yet defendants continued to ply him with alcohol. Gregory Wyler vomited multiple times. Within a short period of time, George became completely unresponsive and lost consciousness.
“Defendant Levy and defendant Feldman were designated drivers the night of George’s kidnapping, and at some point during the kidnapping, each drove a vehicle that was transporting George and assisting in the ritual causing George’s death.
“At about 5:00 am, the pledges called for a designated driver who ferried George back to the SAE fraternity house. George passed out on the way back to the fraternity house and had to be helped by the pledges, including defendants, into the house. Defendant Feldman was one of the people carrying George into the SAE house, and the other defendants may have also helped in this part of the incident.
“The bedroom door to George’s room was locked to prevent pledges from kidnapping George’s roommate. George was dumped on a couch in the library of the fraternity house, bound at the ankles, wrists and neck, where he was left unattended.
“Defendants knew or should have known that George had consumed dangerous amounts of alcohol as a result of this hazing ritual. Defendants knew or should have known that George had become incapacitated and was unable to walk or take care of himself.”
Andre says the pledges left George alone, and failed to loosen his restraints or summon medical help.
Cleaning personnel later that morning found George, unresponsive and still restrained, according to the complaint.
Andre seeks more than $10 million in damages for negligence.
Last year, she filed a $25 million wrongful death complaint against the fraternity.
In both suits, Andre is represented by William Friedlander with Friedlander, Friedlander & Arcesi, of Waverly, N.Y.