JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After the family of a Mizzou student said a hazing incident left their son blind, unable to talk, walk or care for himself, a Missouri lawmaker is proposing legislation to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
Back in October 2021, the Santulli family said their youngest son Danny was ordered to drink an entire bottle of vodka at a fraternity event. Criminal indictments allege no one called 911 after he was found on the couch in distress. Now, there’s a bill filed to get hazing victims medical attention while protecting the 911 caller from a felony. The legislation is being known as “Danny’s Law.”
“If we had 15, 20 minutes back, Danny would probably not be in this situation,” Santulli’s dad Tom said. “I know a lot of the younger kids in fraternities do get brainwashed about the code of silence, and it sticks with them, and we don’t know why when it’s a life and death situation.”
Oct. 20, 2021, the day the Santulli’s lives changed forever. Tom and his wife Mary Pat drove seven and a half hours through the night to Columbia after receiving a phone call no parent wants to get.
Santulli rushed the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity during his freshman year at Mizzou. According to the family’s lawsuit, he attended “Pledge Dad Reveal Night” at the fraternity house, where he was ordered to drink an entire bottle of Tito’s vodka.
The Santulli’s lawsuit said after Danny was given the liter of vodka, he was then selected by other members to drink a beer through a tube. Court documents go on to say that just before midnight, Santulli was sitting on the couch in “extreme distress and with a blood alcohol of .468%.” That’s nearly six times the legal limit in Missouri.
Thirty minutes later, around 12:30 a.m., Santulli slid partially off the couch and ended up with his face on the floor. He had no control of his arms or legs and stayed there until someone passing through the room put him back on the couch. The lawsuit states Santulli’s “skin was pale, and his lips were blue, yet no one called 911.” Instead, the decision was made to drive Santulli to University Hospital in Columbia in one of the brother’s cars. The lawsuit says, “when they arrived, hospital staff went to the car only to find that Danny was not breathing and in cardiac arrest. CPR was performed and Danny’s heart was restarted.”
“It’s really critical that parents instill into their son or daughter if you see someone in distress, whether you think his lips are blue or not and you if you think he’s sleeping it off, just do the right thing,” Tom said. “Play it safe and call 911. With this new law, instead of getting a felony, you’ll be a hero.”
Tom is talking about a bill filed by Rep. Travis Smith, R-Dora. The legislation would give immunity to any person who renders aid to a hazing victim or is the first person to call 911.
“Right now, hazing is a felony in the State of Missouri, so what we’re doing is saying if you call, you’re not going to be penalized for making that phone call and doing the hazing,” Smith said.
He said the idea of the bill came from Florida, known as Andrew’s Law. Police said Andrew Coffey died after a hazing incident at Florida State University in November 2017. After Smith heard of Danny’s story on the news, and as a Mizzou grad and former fraternity member and father of a Mizzou student, he wanted to file the bill for the Santullis.
“We just want to know that if you’re trying to take care of people and save a life, a good Samaritan, you’re going to be okay,” Smith said. “Students are taught that any kind of hazing is against the law and that’s why there’s a huge roadblock to make that phone call because they are worried about getting charged. This bill indemnifies them from getting that felony if they call in and help save someone’s life.”
House Bill 240 says a person will not be found guilty if the person “remains at the scene with the person in need of immediate medical assistance until medical assistance, law enforcement, or campus security arrives and that he or she cooperates with such personnel on the scene.”
Santulli, now 19-years-old, lives at home with her parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis, where his mom has quit her job to become a full-time caretaker.
Eleven fraternity brothers have been charged in Danny’s case, 10 of which were indicted by a grand jury for hazing. Thomas Schultz, Ryan Delanty, Benjamin Parres, Benjamin Karl, Samuel Morrison, Harrison Reichman, John “Jack” O’Neill, Blake Morsovillo, Samuel Lane and Samuel Gandhi were indicted for hazing.
Another fraternity brother, Alex Wetzler named in the lawsuit as the member who made Santulli drink the beer from the tube. While Wetzler was not charged with a hazing felony, he was accused of supplying liquor to a minor and purchasing liquor for a minor. All fraternity brothers still have cases ongoing in Boone County.
The family’s lawyer, David Bianchi, said previously he’d been told seven fraternity members have been expelled from Mizzou. Still, the University of Missouri will not confirm and only says that 13 have been disciplined. The Santulli family has settled with 26 defendants in a civil case, including fraternity brothers and the national Phi Gamma Delta Organization.
Shortly after the October event, Mizzou stopped recognizing the fraternity as a student organization and the national organization closed the chapter and told the university no one associated with the fraternity was living in the house.