Alcohol

Who Killed Gary DeVercelly?

|

Last spring Gary DeVercelly Jr., an 18-year-old freshman at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, drank himself to death during an initiation rite at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. When he was pronounced dead at a hospital in Trenton, his blood alcohol concentration was 0.43 percent. Last week the local prosecutor's office responded to DeVercelly's death by charging three students and two university officials (the director of Greek life and the dean of students) with "aggravated hazing," which carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. A.P. does not explain the basis for charging the administrators. But unless they were at DeVercelly's side shouting "drink, drink," this seems like a stretch, even if you accept the premise that anyone should be held criminally liable for an adult's decision to consume an entire bottle of vodka in less than an hour. Presumably the prosecution will argue that the administrators should have prevented DeVercelly's death through closer supervision of on-campus fraternities and that the students—Phi Kappa Tau's residence director, pledge master, and chapter president—either knew or should have known what was going on.

As long as we're spreading the blame around, perhaps the members of Congress who pushed New Jersey to raise its drinking age to 21 by threatening to withhold highway money should be indicted too. It's true that reckless drinking and stupid fraternity rituals predate our current de facto national drinking age. But the absurdly unrealistic expectation that college students, legally adults in every other respect, will avoid alcohol entirely until they turn 21, whereupon they will somehow know how to drink responsibly, pushes drinking underground, encourages excess, and discourages appropriate supervision by demanding abstinence instead of moderation.

[Thanks to CK for the tip.]

NEXT: Strippers Take to the Streets

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “drank himself to death during an initiation rite at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity”

    whiskey tango foxtrot???

    humiliation, conformity, degradation are three elements that exactly should not be involved in greek life.

    disgusting.

  2. It’s even worse. I have heard temperance people say that adults should be arrested for drinking in front of people under 21. Think about it — in their mind, a person is not supposed to drink before turning 21 and until that day, they are not even supposed to see anyone consuming alcohol. How in the world do they expect humans how to learn to consume responsibly. How fucked up is that???

  3. Hazing is a real issue. I was a greek in college and we fought hard to deal with the matter in our own fraternity, and we were self policed by our national organization, and then the school, and then local law enforcement, who, and I quote, threatened to “stomp on our necks” if we fucked up.

    Many of these kids, as pledges, will do whatever they are told up to a point. But things like sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and intimidation can get people to do crazy things. Yeah, the individual made a choice to pledge and put up with certain things, but the psychological manipulation can be very reall, and very, very dangerous. If the school was responsibly following anti-hazing policies and as long as they were not aware of events like these and doing nothing, I don’t see how they can or should be liable.

  4. humiliation, conformity, degradation are three elements that exactly should not be involved in greek life.

    That’s right. They belong right here instead.

  5. HIC AND RUN MUST HEREBY DO THE OLIVE RACE WITH HIMSELF. ALONE. AND IF SUCH THINGS WERE AT THIS WEB SITE, THERE WOULD BE MORE POP UP ADS.

    NOW GO AND WAIT OUTSIDE OF STEVO’S BUNK.

  6. Who Killed Gary DeVercelly?

    It’s a fair cop.

  7. The olive race? Is that a Nazi category?

  8. We must immediately require the prohibition of the words “vodka” and “drink.”

  9. Hic and Rum Reader sounds like Edward under a new name.

  10. Hic and Rum Reader sounds like Edward under a new name.

    Hardly. And your malfunctioning irony meter just generated acute microintraoricularemesis.

  11. Well, if we enforced the drinking game rules to the letter on threads where Edward appears, we’d probably have a fatal alcohol poisoning incident too.

  12. “Hazing is a real issue”

    Yes it is, only because there are idiots out there who think it is worth risking their life to get into a damn fraternity. No one made this kid drink this vodka, unless they held a gun to his head. The only thing criminal in this case was the deceased’s criminal stupidity.
    I can understand if the national fraternity organization sanctions these guys for allowing it to happen at their house, but the guy was a legal adult, and thus responsible for his own actions.

  13. Dammit, only us guys what want indyviddle pissponsibility hier!

  14. Any 18 year old college student who doesn’t know he can drink himself to death is to stupid to live anyway. I was a greek and was hazed. It was the best night of my college career. Granted this was at a small private college were everyone was careful not to do anything too dangerous, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and it did make all of us feel closer for having gone through it.

  15. Goldthwait – I don’t think you are looking at the full issue. Some hazing is really intense, and depending on the situation, the person can be so fucked up and pressured that they aren’t thinking clearly when presented with a given task – drinking a jug of vodka or fucking a goat, for example. They don’t know what the hell they are doing, and are unaware of the consequences in many cases. This is due to sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation, I shit you not. That stuff goes on all over the country. Like a frog in a boiling pot of water, these pledges don’t necessarily realize what is happening until it’s too late.

    Besides, if you create or promote conditions where a person dies, you can be an accessory depending on the context. If you surround an 18 yr old freshman with 30 screaming upperclassmen, bad things can happen. Peer pressure does NOT abrogate someone’s personal responsibility, but it’s not equivalent to suggest that this kid would have wanted while sober to walk into a liquor store, buy a handle of 5 o clock vodka, and drink as much of it as he could before he got to the parking lot.

  16. For those of you who are going on about personal responsibility here, have you ever turned down another drink after your first 10-15 or so? You can’t really believe that someone can exercise personal responsibility at this point. To insist upon this is to ignore completely the effects of alcohol.

    People can choose not to get so drunk as to lose control, but anything that they’re goaded into doing after this point becomes more the fault of those around them. Maybe the responsibility lies on you to not drink near people who will goad you into drinking too much, but how can you expect a young college student trying to find social acceptance to know better than to trust the very people they wish to become a part of?

    Gary DeVercelly no more chose to continue drinking to the point of death than he chose to die. Both were results of the alcohol he had already ingested, combined with the social situation he was in.

  17. Having been a member of the student government when I was in college and not having been a Greek, I had to deal with many issues concerning hazing from a somewhat different perspective.

    My opinion of most hazing regulations is that they have been framed so as to invite contempt. When an anti-hazing rule prevents fraternities from having their pledges wear any article of identifying clothes, participate in menial tasks, do scavenger hunts–I shit you not, scavenger hunts are a mortal threat to every pledge–the regulations in their entirety are treated like the absurd excesses of a nanny fascist regime, and are consequently ignored. In that contempt, frats find common cause with populations that normally would hold the Greeks themselves in contempt (namely, everyone else) as the rules being applied are so indefensible that to apply them makes the administration look like buffoons even to the average basically unconcerned and unaware student.

    As a result, the more important rules against hazing, such as binge drinking, sleep deprivation, sexual degradation, etc., are also blithely ignored. I personally compare it to teaching kids that all drugs are evil and utterly destructive, so that when they have their first joint they discover that adults were full of it when it came to marijuana, and then begin to question the veracity of official accounts of harm from the more serious controlled substances.

  18. Hmmm, didn’t somebody remark in another thread that people extend their adolescence later and later these days? Perhaps we should raise the drinking age to, I dunno, say….80?

  19. Dave B. | August 8, 2007, 12:11am | #
    For those of you who are going on about personal responsibility here, have you ever turned down another drink after your first 10-15 or so?

    Seeing as you ask – many many times.

  20. I suppose a point could be made that a reasonable person should realize that chugging liquor is a terrible idea, but many 18-year-olds probably don’t consider the consequences of their actions and possibly still feel invincible. A combination of undeveloped decision-making faculties and an unfamiliarity with the unpleasant physical consequences of heavy drinking, plus peer pressure, probably contributed to this boy’s death.

    If this young man had experienced a terrible hangover or two, perhaps he wouldn’t have drained that bottle. Not that I’m saying that teenagers should be encouraged to get drunk and puke, but maybe in this case the experience would have served him well.

    It seems to me that the idiots who egged him on should have known better.

    For those of you who are going on about personal responsibility here, have you ever turned down another drink after your first 10-15 or so? You can’t really believe that someone can exercise personal responsibility at this point. To insist upon this is to ignore completely the effects of alcohol.

    I have. And I think an 18-year-old is not, as I think you’re saying, going to have anything resembling a well-developed set of decision-making skills, although I also think everyone involved should have known better.

    Frats should switch to weed and have pledges smoke themselves stupid. At least nobody would die.

  21. Jim Bob –
    My frat did both… anti-nausea agent + lots of booze = big big big hangover.

    I think frat hazing is serious. Although no one held a gun to his head, having a crowd of people around you shouting at you to drink/chug/take another shot (people who you are trying to impress/gain the approval of, no less) can make you do things you wouldn’t do normally. The worst is if you’re someone who has been known to party hard, and you decide that you want to party less hard. This leads to inevitable pressure to drink/chug/take another shot. I know that it’s easy to say that you can just stop any time, but sometimes the perceived future consequences of stopping(especially in the process of pledging a frat) seem much worse than the possible consequences of drinking too much.

  22. “And I think an 18-year-old is not… going to have anything resembling a well-developed set of decision-making skills”

    Then why let them vote? Or go to war?

    Just sayin’…

    CB

  23. Hmmm, didn’t somebody remark in another thread that people extend their adolescence later and later these days? Perhaps we should raise the drinking age to, I dunno, say….80?

    I was the one who made the extended adolescence comment, but I also argue that adolescents should be able to drink – hopefully at home during meal times so they learn how to do it and not be idiotic about it and don’t do silly things like this when they go to college.

  24. de stijl: I couldn’t agree with you more.

  25. de stijl is on the money.

    The drinking age for beer and wine was 18 when I was growing up. I could legally drink beer throughout my senior year in high school. And being enterprising young lads, we could buy beer at 16 or so from certain gullible shop keepers because it’s easier for a 16-year-old to pass as an 18-year-old than 21. We learned how to drink. It wasn’t pretty sometimes, but we did.

    By the time I got to college, binge drinking was something silly “newbie” drinkers would do … and they were generally ridiculed.

    The current drinking age has done more harm than good, I think.

  26. For those of you who are going on about personal responsibility here, have you ever turned down another drink after your first 10-15 or so? You can’t really believe that someone can exercise personal responsibility at this point. To insist upon this is to ignore completely the effects of alcohol.

    That’s it! 15 drinks is the no-fault threshold!

    “Officer, I could resist having that 16th drink. It’s not my fault. You see, I’m a great driver through the first 15 drinks.”

  27. Under the concept of “Blame the messenger”, we should blame Charles Darwin for this death.

  28. I don’t think that death by alcohol poisoning is the kind of haha funny that the Darwin Awards look for.

  29. CB,

    Please don’t take the sentence you quoted to mean that I think 18-year-olds should not be allowed to drink. The age of majority should, as far as I’m concerned, include the right to choose to drink alcohol. The age should either be 18 for voting, going to war, and drinking, or it should be 21 for voting, going to war, and drinking. The “magic age” of 21 for drinking alcohol makes no sense to me.

    Also, perhaps some 18-year-olds who are in the military have a slightly more developed set of decision making skills than those who are not, due to military training and living under stricter supervision than their civilian counterparts. But I have seen people of all ages in the military drink to excess and act like fools, and alcohol abuse is not uncommon in the service.

  30. gary drank 3/4 of a bottle of bicaradi lemon in under 15 minutes…. bicardi lemon was the drink of choice for this pacific frat…. wow gary is crazy or shall i saw was crazy…. he was texting his g/f after he drank the bottle saying how drunk he was then just couldnt stop throwing up until he died…. poor kid… rip gary

  31. This kid made a mistake that took his life. How many of us make mistakes!!! I feel there is no place for anyone to judge someone elses mistake, unless they want it to happen to someone in their life….

    Be careful what u say!!!

    R.I.P. Gary

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.