George Desdunes' Mother Files Lawsuit
[[image|id=337|align=right|width=350]]Marie Lourdes Andre, the mother of George Desdunes, a Cornell University sophomore who died after drinking heavily during a Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) event in February, filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit on Monday. Court documents indicate that the multimillion-dollar lawsuit names twenty former members and pledge members of SAE as defendants, in addition to the fraternity itself.
The suit alleges that Desdunes participated in a mock kidnapping by spring pledges as a fraternity "ritual." Pledges took him and fellow SAE brother Greg Wyler to the campus's Townhouse Community, where the two were bound hand and foot with zip ties and duct tape and quizzed about "fraternity information and lore." When answering questions incorrectly, the two were forced to do exercises such as sit-ups or consume various food and drinks including sugar, flavored syrups, and vodka.
According the lawsuit, George was forced to drink until he passed out and was ultimately taken back to the fraternity house where he was left, still bound, on a couch in the library overnight.
A housekeeper discovered him the next morning and called 911. Emergency responders took Desdunes to Cayuga Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Authorities have reported that his blood alcohol content was 0.35 percent following his death, over four times the legal limit to drive in New York. The lawsuit claims that this figure actually reached .409 percent.
"With the death of my son, I find some comfort in knowing that this lawsuit may bring about changes in fraternities that will prevent other families from suffering as I have," Andre remarked in a statement. Desdunes, an aspiring doctor and former altar boy, was her only son. His father had passed away several years prior.
In May, Max Haskin '14, Ben Mann '14, Edward Williams '14 and a fourth, unnamed individual under the age of 19 were charged with misdemeanors in connection with the case. The fourth individual was also charged tampering with physical evidence after he asked his roommate to remove leftover duct tape and zip ties from the site of the incident. The defendants pleaded not guilty.
Andre's suit names Haskin, Mann, and Williams, along with SAE's former chapter president, vice president, and other undergraduate officers as defendants. Her lawyer, Wiliam Friedlander, has prosecuted more that 15 hazing cases, most of which involved deaths from drinking. Friedlander noted that at least five other deaths have occurred at SAE chapters since 1997 and accused the Cornell chapter of negligently implementing an ineffective risk management policy.
Following Desdunes' death, Cornell University withdrew its recognition of the SAE Fraternity and removed all students from the house. The national organization also closed down the Cornell Chapter, suspending all of its members until graduation. 16 of the former SAE pledges subsequently joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity.
In response to the lawsuit, the national chapter issued a statement referencing SAE's "zero-tolerance policy" for members who fail to comply with regulations: "Members are expected to adhere to our fraternity policies and to uphold behavior consistent with our creed, 'The True Gentleman.'" It also made note that it sponsors an anonymous hazing hotline at 1-888-NOT-HAZE.