COLUMBIA, Mo. — Two men have been charged in an alleged hazing incident that left a former University of Missouri student in a wheelchair, blind, and unable to speak.
Now, thousands of family, friends, and even strangers across the country are signing a petition, wanting more justice for Danny Santulli.
Santulli’s parents said he was the victim of a gross hazing incident last October. His family filed a lawsuit over the incident, which says Danny was ordered to drink a liter of vodka during the Phi Gamma Delta’s “Pledge Dad Reveal Night.” The 55-page suit details that Danny drank so much he became unresponsive.
“You just don’t think that those kinds of barbaric things could happen,” said John Heerhold, creator of the petition. “I was kind of naive to the severity of Danny’s situation.”
Heerhold is from just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and is behind the “Demand Justice for Danny Santulli and Support the Anti-Hazing Laws in Missouri” petition. As of Tuesday night, nearly 62,000 people have signed.
“My daughter Bridge and Meredith Santulli are best friends and college roommates,” Heerhold said. “Bridget and Meredith would tell me that those that are responsible would be out and about hanging out at bars and I said that doesn’t seem right to me.”
Meredith is Danny’s older sister who also attends Mizzou. According to the family’s lawyer David Bianchi, Danny told his sister last year that he couldn’t take being in the fraternity anymore.
The suit says that his sister “realized that he was suffering from overwhelming depression and fatigue.” After she and her parents tried telling Danny to walk away from Phi Gamma Delta, Danny said he wasn’t a quitter and “did not want to be humiliated and ridiculed by those who rank he was trying to join.”
The lawsuit said Danny’s pledge dad “handed Danny the ‘family bottle’ of Tito’s vodka, which Danny was expected to consume in its entirety before the event was over.”
Danny was then selected by other members to drink a beer through a tube. The lawsuit names Alex Wetzler as the brother who made Danny drink the beer. Wetzler was later charged with supplying alcohol to a minor.
Until Friday, Wetzler was the only fraternity brother charged since the incident.
“Danny has to suffer the consequences maybe for the rest of his life for his decision to try to be part of this fraternity,” Heerhold said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask that those who put this event together and those that put Danny in harm’s way to also be responsible.”
The lawsuit then went on to say that just before midnight, Danny was sitting on a 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., Danny slid partially off the couch and ended with his face on the floor but 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 names Samuel Gandhi as the fraternity brother that left after putting Santulli 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 Danny 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.”
Santulli was then rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU) and put on a ventilator. Days later, he was removed from the ventilator and able to breathe on his own, but he was still unresponsive, unaware of his surroundings, unable to communicate, and had a significant injury to his brain.
Bianchi said that the Santulli family previously sued 23 people, including the fraternity, and won their case. The lawsuit has since been amended and now includes two individual fraternity brothers: Gandhi and Wetzler.
Friday, a Boone County grand jury indicted Ryan Delanty, of Ballwin, and Thomas Shultz, of Chesterfield, on felony hazing charges and misdemeanors of supplying liquor to a minor or intoxicated person. Shultz is facing an additional felony charge of tampering with physical evidence. Both have bonds set at $50,000.
“Relief that there was some progress and happy for the Santulli family that they got a little bit of justice but also knowing that there is more work to do,” Heerhold said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that there is an extreme injustice to Danny and the Santulli family.”
Back in May, the University of Missouri said 13 students received disciplinary sanctions because of the incident but did not give specific details. Shortly after the October event, Mizzou booted the fraternity off the campus, and the house was closed.
Earlier this month, the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office released a statement saying its investigation was ongoing.
With regard to the investigation of hazing at the University of Missouri, this office is currently reviewing the results of law enforcement’s investigation and will, if appropriate, file additional criminal charges or cases. At this time, our investigation is ongoing. I cannot comment on pending criminal cases and likewise cannot discuss possible criminal cases under review. This office takes allegations of hazing very seriously, and we are terribly saddened by the injuries sustained by Danny Santulli. This office will seek justice in this case based on the evidence and Missouri law.
The office did not respond to any phone calls Tuesday regarding the latest charges that were filed.
Heerhold said people from around the country have signed on to the petition, but he is asking for more signatures to keep the pressure on the prosecutors.
“This is for Danny, that’s what it’s all about,” Heerhold said. “It’s about Danny.”
The lawsuit also mentioned what Danny had to do for the older fraternity brothers before pledge night.
“He was sleep-deprived, was having to buy things for the fraternity brothers with his own money, and was repeatedly ordered to clean the brothers’ rooms and bring food, alcohol, and marijuana to them at all hours of the night,” the suit alleges.
During his pledging process, the suit claims Danny had been ordered to climb into a trash can that had broken glass in it, which resulted in a bad cut on his foot, and he had to go to the hospital to get stitches and crutches.
This isn’t the first time Phi Gamma Delta had been in trouble at Mizzou. The fraternity has a track record of alcohol-related violations in 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2021. Less than two months before the hazing incident, Phi Gamma Delta was in violation of university policies and alcohol distribution, sanctioning the fraternity to the alcohol education program and the alcohol event probation.