Hazing incident leaves University of Missouri student unable to see, talk or walk
COLUMBIA, Mo. (KTVI) – A 19-year-old former University of Missouri student is wheelchair-bound, blind, and unable to speak after he was hazed last fall, according to his family.
Danny Santulli’s family has filed a lawsuit against his former fraternity brothers over the incident.
“It’s impossible to have damages that are worse than what Danny Santulli has and still be alive,” the family’s attorney, David Bianchi, told KTVI on Thursday. “As a result of what they did to him, he has massive brain damage, he’s lost his eyesight. So he’s blind, he cannot walk, and he cannot communicate in any way.”
According to the lawsuit, Santulli was ordered to drink a liter of vodka during a fraternity event in October. As of Thursday, no one had been charged in the case, Bianchi said.
The 55-page suit explains that Santulli attended the “Pledge Dad Reveal Night” at Mizzou’s Phi Gamma Delta house and drank so much that he became unresponsive.
“Danny Santulli came within inches of dying except they, fortunately, got his heart restarted at the hospital,” Bianchi said.
The lawsuit said Santulli’s pledge dad “handed Danny the ‘family bottle’ of Tito’s vodka which Danny was expected to consume in its entirety before the event was over.”
Santulli was then selected by other members to drink a beer through a tube. The lawsuit names Alex Wetzler as the fraternity brother who made Santulli drink the beer.
“He put the tube in Danny’s mouth after Danny had already consumed about half a bottle of vodka with a funnel at the end of the tube,” Bianchi said. “He then proceeded to pour beer down the tube into Danny’s mouth while he was in the process of drinking vodka.”
The lawsuit also alleges that just before midnight, Santulli was sitting on a couch in “extreme distress and with a blood alcohol of .468%.” That’s nearly six times the legal limit in Missouri.
Thirty minutes later, around 12:30 a.m., Santulli slid partially off the couch and ended with his face on the floor but he had no control of his arms or legs and stayed there until someone passing through the room put him back on the couch. The lawsuit names Samuel Gandhi as the fraternity brother that left after putting Santulli back on the couch.
“Surveillance video shows he was attending to Danny about 45 minutes or so before Danny just was absolutely gone and just when Danny needed him the most, he got up and went home,” Bianchi said.
The lawsuit states Santulli’s “skin was pale and his lips were blue, yet no one called 911.” Instead, the decision was made to drive Santulli to University Hospital in Columbia in one of the brother’s cars.
“When they arrived, hospital staff went to the car only to find that Danny was not breathing and in cardiac arrest. CPR was performed and Danny’s heart was restarted,” the lawsuit says.
Santulli was then rushed to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. Days later, he was removed from the ventilator and able to breathe on his own, but he was still unresponsive, unaware of his surroundings, unable to communicate, and had a significant injury to his brain.
“I think every one of these fraternity members is just as guilty as the next one because they were all involved in planning this,” Bianchi said.
Bianchi said that the Santulli family previously sued 23 people, including the fraternity, and won their case. The lawsuit has since been amended and now includes two individual fraternity brothers: Gandhi and Wetzler.
Bianchi said eight months later, there are still no charges filed.
“I think the people in the Mizzou community and the people in the state of Missouri need to say, ‘This is unacceptable. This should never happen again. It’s got to stop,'” Bianchi said. “They need to put pressure on the university and the prosecutor to do something about it.”
Back in May, the University of Missouri said 13 students received disciplinary sanctions because of the incident but did not give specific details. Shortly after the October event, Mizzou booted the fraternity off the campus and the house was closed.
Days before the incident, the lawsuit says, Santulli’s sister went to the fraternity house to see him, and “for the first time in his life, he broke down and cried to her.”
Santulli told his sister he was exhausted and that he could not take being in the fraternity anymore. The suit says that his sister “realized that he was suffering from overwhelming depression and fatigue.” After she and her parents tried telling Santulli to walk away from Phi Gamma Delta, Santulli said he wasn’t a quitter and “did not want to be humiliated and ridiculed by those whose ranks he was trying to join.”
The lawsuit also mentioned what Santulli had to do for the older fraternity brothers before pledge night.
“He was sleep-deprived, was having to buy things for the fraternity brothers with his own money, and was repeatedly ordered to clean the brothers’ rooms and bring food, alcohol, and marijuana to them at all hours of the night,” the suit alleges.
During his pledging process, the suit claims, Santulli had been ordered to climb into a trash can that had broken glass in it, which resulted in a bad cut on his foot, and he had to go to the hospital to get stitches and crutches.
The fraternity has a track record of alcohol-related violations, including in 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Less than two months before the hazing incident, Phi Gamma Delta was in violation of Mizzou’s policies and alcohol distribution, sanctioning the fraternity to the alcohol education program and the alcohol event probation.
The Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit or why charges have not been filed in this case.