A University of Louisiana at Lafayette fraternity pledge subjected to forced sleep-deprivation during the 2016 homecoming weekend fell asleep at the wheel and killed a student pedestrian, according to two lawsuits and internal university documents that provide extensive detail on hazing allegedly perpetrated by Kappa Sigma members.
Michael Gallagher Jr. and his parents are suing the fraternity and some of its members over the death of Rustam Nizamutdinov, a 24-year-old Uzbek student who died Nov. 6, 2016, after Gallagher fell asleep at the wheel and veered off Johnston Street, according to the lawsuits and police reports documenting the crash.
"The actions of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and its affiliates caused the tragic death of one young man and irrevocably altered the life of another," said Barry Sallinger, who's representing the Gallaghers, in an emailed statement to KATC TV3. "The senseless, impudent and barbarous hazing practices of the fraternity were institutional and long-standing. It is unfathomable how these practices were not detected and dealt with by the University a long time ago."
Kappa Sigma's national headquarters revoked the Epsilon-Chi chapter's charter in July after an investigation into hazing allegations, but details about what led to the expulsion are just now coming to light.
As a pledge during 2016 homecoming weekend, Gallagher was "forced to be a designated driver for intoxicated" members of the fraternity, according to the 20-year-old's lawsuit. He blames "several days of hazing" as the reason he lost control of his vehicle around 1:40 a.m.
Thinking he had fallen asleep and crashed into a pole, Gallagher called his parents, who arrived on scene to find "their child in shock" and "unable to remember what happened," according to the lawsuit. His parents, Michael Gallagher Sr. and Amy Gallagher, soon discovered Nizamutdinov's body nearby.
Nizamutdinov — who was one month away from earning a bachelor's degree in engineering — was pronounced dead on the scene.
Nizamutdinov's mother, Farida Shavkatova, of Uzbekistan, has also sued. She alleges Gallagher had been subjected to "extreme sleep deprivation" in the days leading up to the crash.
Gallagher told police after the crash that he had been awake for 36 hours, and toxicology reports showed he had no signs of chemical impairment, according to the police report. Shavkatova's suit alleges the sleep-deprivation extended even longer, to 72 hours.
District Attorney Keith Stutes' office, of the 15th Judicial District, refused charges earlier this year. Stutes said on Wednesday there was no evidence to support that Gallagher had committed a crime.
KATC TV3 reviewed the DA's case file in the crash. Aside from Gallagher telling police he had been awake for at least 36 hours, there's no mention of the alleged pledging activities that led up to the fatality.
The Gallaghers' Nov. 3 lawsuit also names the University of Louisiana System as a defendant.
The suit claims the university “knew or should have known of the persistent pattern of hazing,” and they “violated their duty to protect students and other individuals attending fraternity functions to act within reasonable bounds to protect against illegal and proscribed hazing.”
After Nizamutdinov's death, the university said it learned of hazing allegations in January and suspended its Kappa Sigma chapter on Feb. 8.
"The University and many members of the campus community, including Nizamutdinov’s fellow international students, were deeply saddened by the sudden, unfortunate loss of his life. The University took seriously the allegations of hazing by Kappa Sigma" and halted all chapter activities, according to the statement.
The institution declined further comment "out of respect for the judicial process and the multiple parties involved in this tragedy."
According to documents anonymously provided to Lafayette media — which the university on Wednesday confirmed to KATC TV3 as legitimate — the university interviewed Kappa Sigma members while investigating hazing allegations that included forced servitude, fights, alcohol consumption, physical brutality, paddling and sleep-deprivation, among other activities.
During tailgating, Kappa Sigma required its "new members to wear matching ties, shirts and dress pants at football games, where the heat in Louisiana at the first football game was over 100 degrees."
New members were also required to set up and tear down the tailgate for each football game, all while wearing the required clothing, and "under-age new members were randomly instructed to drink the rest of the actives' alcoholic drinks." Some of those members "were reportedly so intoxicated that they could barely carry all of the tailgate things back to the house and sorority women helped them."
At another game, a number of Kappa Sigma members were involved in a fist fight against another fraternity's member. Both fraternities were sanctioned.
During family weekend, when the university had instructed Greek chapters not to hold any events, Kappa Sigma still went forward with its planned retreat that required the pledges to stay awake all night, set up the tailgate the next day, stay there all day and then bring a date to the game and to a social afterward.
When a parent complained, "the University was informed by the same parent that fraternity members told the new members that they would find out who told and that something would happen to them."
The allegations related to the 2016 Homecoming week are more severe, according to the documents:
- If identified as best friends, new members were instructed to fight the best friend with boxing gloves in front of Kappa Sigma brothers. There were 4 rounds. As a result at least one student had a bruised eye and was taken to a doctor. There are also unconfirmed rumors of broken collar bones associated with these fights.
- New members were burned on the back with cigarettes.
- New members were blindfolded, tied up, and punched in the face.
- For the week leading up to initiation, new members were instructed to be present at the Kappa Sigma house at all times except when in class. New members were only allowed to go home to shower at midnight, but had to return to an active’s house to sleep. As a result, new members got very little sleep that week.
The documents state that the sleep-deprivation extended from Oct. 29-Nov. 5.
They were expected to stay awake all night until they were released to go home or back to their residence hall around 5am the next day. If anyone fell asleep, they would be yelled at or have water or other liquid thrown on them.
The documents also provide further information about the events leading up to the night of the fatal crash:
- Homecoming weekend was especially busy for the new members. In addition to the sleep deprivation previously described, new members were instructed to be up all night to build the homecoming float Friday night, ride the float in the parade, set up the tailgate, and tailgate all day Saturday.
- On the Friday night of homecoming, University Police reported members were not cooperating with their directives to leave the float-building area. The members/new members brought a keg to the area, which was prohibited.
- On the afternoon of homecoming, in the parking lot near the fraternity house, a member approached a guest parking in the lot for homecoming. The member was rude and disrespectful causing the guest to be fearful and she filed a report with University Police.
- Five of the sleep-deprived new members were instructed to be designated drivers Saturday night. That night at least two car accidents, and possibly a third, happened involving those designated drivers. One of the five drivers fell asleep before it was time for him to drive, leaving only four of the men available to drive. The actives would call the men on rotation so that they were continually on the road, reportedly to ensure that these new members were awake all night.
- Car accident #1: After receiving a call to pick up an active, a new member backed into a tree in the front yard of his parents’ home attempting to leave. His father found him sleep-deprived and attempting to drive in the front yard and instructed him to go inside.
- Car accident #2: New member Michael Gallagher fell asleep at the wheel driving home from his final designated driver call. Asleep, he hit a several things on the side of the road and tragically killed a pedestrian (who happened to be another UL Lafayette student). He then crashed his car and woke up to an air bag. He was barely able to open his eyes as people arrived on the scene. He did not even know he had hit anything until his parents arrived. His parents found the pedestrian on the ground and attempted CPR, but the man died.
- The next day, Sunday morning, the new members were supposed to be back at the Kappa Sigma house at 8am, but this was cancelled by the chapter men following the chapter’s notification of their new member’s tragic accident.
During the following spring, the university received a screen shot from Kappa Sigma's Facebook group "that implies that hazing will be even more severe for the spring new members."
Kappa Sigma's headquarters revoked the Lafayette chapter's charter on July 14 and dismissed its 92 members. But prior to that, the university claims in its investigative documents that the national office did not act "with accountability and transparency" in its investigation into hazing at the Epsilon-Chi chapter:
Several pledges reported that they told the “national representatives” about many of these hazing activities that occurred during pledging. Still, in their response, the HQ found none of the allegations to be true during their investigation.
National HQ staff – have refused our efforts to collaborate or to be transparent. There is a tremendous lack of accountability on all levels – undergraduate, alumni, district officer, and national hq.
Kappa Sigma severed its membership with the NIC (National Interfraternity Council) years ago. This provides an additional set of challenges moving forward with accountability and transparency.
HQ received a phone call and an email in the fall outlining our concerns at that time. We received no response. In January, our office received credible reports of various hazing activities that took place in the Fall 2016 semester. We reached out to HQ directly again with a phone call and email. They responded and assigned the leadership of their investigation to the District Grand Master.
KATC TV3 provided Kappa Sigma's headquarters a copy of the university's documents on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Mitchell B. Wilson, Kappa Sigma's executive director, said in an emailed statement that the hazing allegations violate the fraternity's code of conduct. He added that during the fraternity's initial investigation into hazing, some of the fraternity's Lafayette members lied about what transpired:
The Kappa Sigma Fraternity has been made aware of some reports released by the University of Louisiana Lafayette regarding alleged inappropriate activities of the former Epsilon-Chi Chapter at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. The allegations as stated are in violation of the Kappa Sigma Code of Conduct.
The former undergraduate members were not honest with Kappa Sigma’s investigating officers in the initial investigation. As soon as the Fraternity found out during the investigation that they were not being honest, the chapter and members were expelled from the Fraternity for violation of Fraternity Policy.
The facts and circumstances of the unfortunate traffic accident fatality is something that is involved in a lawsuit and discovery in the lawsuit will determine the actual facts.
Following Kappa Sigma's expulsion and the September death of LSU freshman Maxwell Gruver, a Phi Delta Theta pledge who died after he was allegedly forced to drink an excessive amount of alcohol during a drinking game, UL-Lafayette has suspended another four of its nine remaining fraternities.
Theta Xi, Kappa Alpha Order, Sigma Nu and Sigma Alpha Epsilon were placed on suspension in mid-to-late September, according to a report from student newspaper The Vermilion.
Note: This article was updated on Nov. 9, 2017, to include comments from 15th Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes.