College Hazing: South Florida family demands answers from Cornell after son’s death

(WSVN) - Some colleges and universities will welcome back students this fall, but as students adjust to a new normal on campus, a South Florida family is afraid that a dangerous part of college life will never change. 7’s Kevin Ozebek investigates.

Joining a fraternity or sorority is a big part of campus life for many college students. Ransom Everglades graduate Antonio Tsialas considered pledging after arriving at Cornell University in New York last year.

Flavia Tomasello, Antonio’s mother: “He had mentioned that he wanted to be part of a fraternity.”

His parents say he was still in his first semester at Cornell when he attended a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party in October.

It was the last time anyone saw Antonio alive.

Flavia Tomasello: “We never thought about the dangers of this darker side of college social life.”

The day after the party, Antonio was supposed to meet his mother and father, who were in town for parents’ weekend. He never showed.

Cornell University Police found his body at the bottom of a gorge.

John Tsialas, Antonio’s father: “The first thing in my mind is saying, ‘He wasn’t by himself.'”

Antonio’s cause of death is listed as “blunt force trauma” from a 100-foot fall. “Acute alcohol intoxication” was a contributing factor.

The polo shirt he had on earlier was found near his body. On it was vomit and the imprint of a shoe.

David Bianchi, family’s attorney: “He was either escorted from that fraternity house by others, into the dark of night, to a remote part of the campus, or he was allowed to walk out the door after being hazed and drinking.”

Attorney David Bianchi believes Antonio was hazed at the party he attended. He says the party is held in secret every year.

David Bianchi: “They call it ‘Christmas in October,’ and they have seven different rooms set up inside the fraternity house, and every room’s got a different theme and different kinds of alcohol. After they gave them a lot of alcohol to drink, they held them upside down by their ankles, and they then dunked them in a trash can filled with water.”

Bianchi says the family is still waiting for answers about Antonio’s last moments.

David Bianchi: “I’ve never had a university be less cooperative than Cornell was in this case.”

Antonio’s parents are suing Cornell University, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity Incorporated, the fraternity’s Cornell chapter, six chapter members and their advisor. They say no one did enough to stop the hazing they believe led to their son’s death.

John Tsialas: “It’s not like a fraternity prank. It’s not like toilet papering the tree of the sorority next door. This is a death.”

Right after Antonio’s death, the president of Cornell University said, “We have on this campus … a persistent culture of misconduct in the Greek-letter system.”

On Tuesday, Cornell University tells 7News, “The Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life initiated organizational conduct charges against Phi Kappa Psi. That disciplinary process is pending and expected to be completed this summer.”

John Tsialas: “They have to control the actions of these fraternities and so forth by cracking down on them.”

The family is now working to educate students and families about hazing.

Cornell University says its police department is still investigating Antonio’s death. So far, no arrests have been made.

7 Investigates reached out to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Its spokesperson says the fraternity “generally does not comment on pending litigation.”

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