by Jess Hoogendoorn
The former president of Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) pleaded guilty during his criminal trial to a disorderly persons charge of hazing in relation to the March 30, 2007, death of Rider University freshman Gary DeVercelly Jr.
Michael Torney, 22, of Randolph, N.J., admitted his involvement in the incident at PKT where DeVercelly consumed two-thirds of a bottle of vodka during the fraternity’s “Big/Little Night” and succumbed to alcohol poisoning three days later at a Trenton hospital. DeVercelly’s blood alcohol level was 0.426.
Torney told Superior Court Judge Mitchel Ostrer that he failed to exercise control over the party even though he was not in the same room as DeVercelly.
Torney was originally charged with aggravated hazing, which carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. However, Assistant Prosecutor Skylar Weissman agreed to reduce the charges to a disorderly persons charge of hazing under a plea agreement.
“It’s not really reduced charges,” Weissman said. “His penalties are really the same as the other individuals — three years [of] probation, 100 hours [of] community service and alcohol counseling.”
However, the official sentencing date is not until Dec. 16 and will be presided over by Judge Ostrer, according to Casey DeBlasio, public information officer at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
“There are no other [trial] steps,” Weissman said. “He has to follow what the judge orders him to do.”
The former fraternity president was not the only one who faced criminal charges in connection with DeVercelly’s death. Two university administrators — Dean of Students Anthony Campbell and Ada Badgley, director of Greek life — and fraternity members Adriano Donato and Dominic Olsen were also charged with aggravated hazing.
The charges against the administrators have since been dropped. The two fraternity members were admitted into the Pre Trial Intervention program for first-time, non-violent offenders. Torney was not eligible for the program. Even though all three students faced some sort of penalty, Weissman said there were no winners or losers.
“Mr. DeVercelly’s life was lost,” Weissman said. “You hope that the three individuals have learned a lesson from this. They’ll be able to help others in the community and learn from their mistakes.”
Torney was also involved in a wrongful death civil suit with the DeVercelly family. The suit was settled last spring when he agreed to pay $150,000 to the family and provide information pertinent to the DeVercelly lawsuit against Rider and the national fraternity. The original figures for the suit were $50 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages, as well as other damages.
The insurance company of the former chapter of PKT filed its own lawsuit in federal court in hopes of alleviating itself of any financial obligation.
Rider was accused of mismanaging and disregarding its fraternities and having less supervision over the Greek houses than the residence halls. The university disagrees with the allegations and maintains necessary actions in the aftermath of the incident.