COLUMBIA — The MU chapter of Kappa Alpha fraternity and its national organization are being sued by a former MU student who was injured in a 2016 hazing event involving binge-drinking.
Brandon Zingale was a Kappa Alpha pledge who nearly died in an alcohol-related hazing event in 2016, according to the lawsuit filed with the Boone County Circuit Court.
During the night of Sept. 27, 2016, Zingale became so intoxicated he could not take care of himself, so fraternity members put him to bed wearing a backpack to keep him from rolling onto his back and dying of asphyxiation, according to the suit. The next morning, Zingale was found alone, unconscious, unresponsive and barely breathing as a result of alcohol poisoning.
Defendants listed include the fraternity as well as the national affiliate, Kappa Alpha Order, and three fraternity members — Jacob Lee, who at the time was chapter president, and Max McGrath and Ryan Heuermann.
When the ambulance arrived, Zingale was on the floor, foaming at the mouth and cold to the touch. When he arrived at the hospital, 10 hours after he had been drinking, his blood alcohol content was .41, more than 20 times the legal limit for driving under the influence as a minor, according to the suit.
Zingale, who was 18 at the time, was within the range of alcohol poisoning that can lead to death. He was diagnosed with damage to his nerves and brain and acute respiratory failure.
After the incident, Zingale withdrew from MU because of his injuries from the incident and moved to Illinois, the suit says. He has enlisted in the military.
After investigating the incident, MU officials found that active members of the fraternity were "encouraging or forcing" the pledges to take exaggerated drinks of vodka, according to the suit. Pledges were also made to fight each other. Zingale, the suit says, was among these pledges.
As a result, MU suspended the fraternity from the campus for a five-year period.
This is not the first time the fraternity has been in trouble with MU. Two weeks before the incident, the chapter was put on probation after an August 2016 incident in which the fraternity was caught providing alcohol to minors.
After that incident, fraternity members had to attend alcohol education program called "Raising the Bar for Greek Students."
Zingale was the third student who had to seek hospital treatment from alcohol-related incidents at the fraternity early in the 2016 fall semester, according to the lawsuit. One student needed stitches after going to the emergency room for a head injury; another was threatened after going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.
The Kappa Alpha Order and the local chapter knew the risks of death and injury hazing traditions present, the suit claims.
Following the incident, Jesse Lyons, an officer for the national Kappa Alpha Order, emailed the Missourian to say the organization had conducted its own investigation and found the hazing allegations to be false. Its investigator did uncover other incidences of hazing and alcohol violations, which the Kappa Alpha Order decided "must be addressed."
Kappa Alpha officials did not respond Friday to questions from the Missourian.
As a pledge, Zingale was repeatedly made to drink large amounts of alcohol to get into the fraternity. At least once he was drugged against his will, according to the suit.
The three fraternity members included in the lawsuit "authorized, directed, aided, abetted and was complicit or participating in alcohol related hazing events." They also failed to obtain timely emergency medical assistance, according to the suit.
MU fraternities show a history of trouble with hazing and alcohol violations. As of December 2016, almost half were on probation and at least three were suspended.
Zingale's lawyers said he wants his experience to help change fraternities' reckless behavior, according to a statement the Associated Press received from his attorney.
"This brave young man hopes his action will help deter fraternities from reckless alcohol hazing and universities from ignoring or tolerating this recklessness," Ken Chackes, Zingale's attorney in St. Louis, said in a statement. "He hopes to hold this fraternity responsible for its irresponsible behavior that almost cost him his life."
Supervising editor is Mike Jenner.