Family sues over southern California college hazing death

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 01, 2015 10:44 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The family of a southern California university student who died on a grueling hike during an initiation rite for a fraternity sued officials from the college and the fraternity on Wednesday, accusing them of negligence.

The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on the one-year anniversary of the death of 19-year-old Armando Villa, a student at California State University, Northridge.

"It's been a year since Armando's death and we still have no answers," Villa's mother, Betty Serrato, said in a statement. "No one has stepped forward to tell us what happened to my son. I am angry and terribly sad."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department continues to investigate the death.

Villa's death followed a number of high-profile hazing fatalities in the United States due to physical abuse and forced alcohol consumption, which placed fraternities under heightened scrutiny.

When he died, Villa was "pledging" or joining a chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and was made to hike in the Angeles National Forest, authorities have said.

Last year, California State University president Dianne Harrison said an investigative report ordered by the university into Villa's death made clear that members of Pi Kappa Phi engaged in hazing.

Villa and other pledges were forced to hike up a peak on a hot summer day and they ran out of water on the way back down, according to an investigative report by the university released last year.

Some in the group became disoriented and dehydrated and may have been suffering from heat stroke, and Villa ran ahead and was found collapsed in a culvert before he died, the report said.

Villa was forced to buy discount shoes that were too small for him, leaving his feet with blisters, according to the report.

The lawsuit by Villa's family named the university, which is located in the Northridge suburb of Los Angeles, Harrison, the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, its former chapter at the university and members of the fraternity.

The negligence lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

A representative from the university could not be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the college told City News Service that university officials had not seen the lawsuit.

"However, we can say that any claim that CSUN was in any way responsible for the tragic death of Armando Villa is untrue," the spokesman told City News Service in a statement.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Ken Wills)