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Hazing Death at Cornell University

The Antonio Tsialas Story Reveals Culture of Secrecy & Excess

Antonio Tsialas was, according to his friends, an overachiever. He was an excellent student at Ransom Everglades High School, a prestigious Miami private school. He was also a gifted soccer player who played varsity soccer each of his four years in high school while also competing on Ransom’s math team and spending considerable time on community service projects. Antonio was also notably ambitious; his dream school was Cornell University, one of the most prestigious colleges in the country.

True to form, Antonio was accepted into the Cornell Class of 2023, and he began classes in the Fall of 2019.

On October 24, 2019, Antonio’s parents went to Cornell to see their son for Parent’s Weekend. Antonio’s mother, Flavia, arrived first, and had dinner with him the night of the 24th. The dinner was a happy one. Antonio was living out his dreams, and his mother got to see firsthand how well her son was doing. Antonio had plans later that night, so at 8 PM he said goodbye and left the restaurant. The plan was for the two of them to meet the next day, and Antonio’s father would be arriving later in the afternoon.

Tragically, Antonio’s parents never saw him again. Later that weekend, Antonio’s body would be found at the bottom of Fall Creek Gorge wearing the same clothes he had on at dinner with his mother. The autopsy confirmed that he had suffered multiple injuries, possibly in a fall. He was also found to have acute alcohol intoxication.

Good Morning America Covers the Death of Antonio Tsialas

Shortly after our firm began investigating Antonio’s death, Good Morning America invited his parents and Attorney David Bianchi from our firm to the program to discuss the events surrounding Antonio’s death and the reward they were offering for information.

The Phi Kappa Psi ‘Christmas’ Party

As we learned later, Antonio left dinner with his mother to attend a fraternity event hosted by Phi Kappa Psi. Antonio was once again being recruited; however, instead of being recruited by a youth soccer team, he was being drawn into the world of Phi Kappa Psi’s hazing culture. Incredibly, the day before the “Christmas in October” party, fraternity members attended a Cornell judicial hearing for misconduct in an unrelated matter.

In blatant disregard for the rules of Cornell University, Phi Kappa Psi was able to throw an unofficial rush event designed to recruit potential new members into the fraternity. The party’s design featured themed rooms where groups of participants were required to drink enormous amounts of alcohol, akin to an obstacle course. The party itself was created to ensure participants were intoxicated by the last room.

Rooms included the Tropical Room, where participants had to limbo under a stick while alcohol was poured down their throats, the Milk & Rum Room, where participants chugged milk and rum as quickly as possible, and the Santa Claus Room, where the group of participants was told to finish an entire bottle of vodka before leaving the room. They then received even more shots of alcohol after that.

Many of the freshmen recruits were black-out drunk by the end of the Santa Claus Room.

What We Know & What We Don’t Know

We know Antonio was at that party, and we know that several people saw him there. However, no one has come forward to offer information about what happened after Antonio left the fraternity house.

Here’s what we do know. We know:

  • Antonio was still wearing the sweatshirt he had on at dinner with his mother when they found his body but the polo shirt that he had been wearing under the sweatshirt was found in a bush about 40’ up the side of the gorge with vomit and a footprint on it.
  • A fraternity officer allegedly called Antonio’s dorm the day after he was reported missing and told Antonio’s roommate not to tell anyone he had gone to the fraternity party the night before.
  • Antonio’s cell phone is missing and its last known location was the Phi Kappa Psi house.

Cornell and the university police began an investigation into Antonio’s death, but the Tsialas family has not received any information in the months since their son’s death. No one from the fraternity or the university has come forward to offer them any information, and the answers behind how and why their son died are still a mystery. In light of the university’s unwillingness to keep the family updated, our firm hired multiple private investigators to piece together what happened the night Antonio died. Based on that information, our firm has filed a lawsuit against 11 defendants: Cornell, Phi Kappa Psi, the chapter advisor, and 8 fraternity officers and members.

Numerous media outlets have reported on Antonio’s case and our pursuit of the truth:

  • CNN - A Cornell University student was last seen at a fraternity event. His family is offering a $10,000 reward for information about his death
  • CBS News - Parents of Cornell freshman found dead after frat party offering $10,000 reward: "We would just like the truth"
  • ABC News - No 'definitive answers' after Cornell University freshman’s body found at the bottom of a gorge after frat party
  • The Cornell Daily Sun - Family Hires Private Investigator, Posts $10,000 Award for New Information in Cornell Freshman Antonio Tsialas’ Death
  • NBC News - Parents of Cornell freshman who died after frat party offering $10K reward
  • ABC 7 - Parents of Cornell University student who died after frat party demand answers
  • Fox News - Family of Cornell student found dead after fraternity party searching for answers
  • The Ithaca Voice - Family of Antonio Tsialas offer reward for truth about his death

The Leading Hazing Injury Lawyers in the U.S.

The Tsialas family called Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. because our firm is the leading hazing injury law firm in the country. We’ve won the largest verdict in the country ever awarded for a fraternity hazing death, and our firm has been instrumental in passing multiple laws to make hazing a felony in the state of Florida. We’ve worked with the parents of hazing victims in multiple states to help them deal with the tragedies of their sons’ deaths and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

In the Tsialas case, we see the familiar hallmarks of a fraternity hazing death: excessive alcohol abuse in the name of ‘tradition,’ a culture of secrecy when things go wrong, an unwillingness to take responsibility for a young man’s death, and the snatching away of a young man’s bright and limitless future. We recognize the same signs we discovered when we represented the parents of Chad Meredith and Andrew Coffey after their sons were subjected to fatal hazing practices.

Whatever happened to Antonio the night he died, we know that his death was preventable. We also know that his death would not have happened if he wasn’t subjected to illegal, outdated, harmful, and reckless fraternity practices the night of October 24. The “dirty rush” that Phi Kappa Psi secretly hosted that night is directly responsible for Antonio’s death and it was an event that never should have taken place.

As a result, our firm will hold all responsible parties accountable for Antonio’s death—both to get answers for his parents and to ensure this never happens to another Cornell student ever again.

What Is Hazing?

Hazing is the name for any activity that subjects someone to physical or mental duress as a way of initiating them into an organization. Fraternities are most well known for hazing, but sororities, sports teams, and marching bands have all been known to employ hazing with new or prospective members. Proponents of hazing insist that hazing is a largely harmless tradition that builds bonds among groups of young people.

However, more and more people disagree. Since the year 2000 there have been 57 known hazing deaths at college campuses in the United States. Every year, people are seriously injured or killed by hazing, so the parents of young people who have died from hazing have begun organizing and speaking out against hazing in all its forms. The anti-hazing movement in Florida, with which our firm has been deeply involved, led to the creation of the Chad Meredith Act and the Andrew Coffey Law—named by lawmakers for young men represented by STFBC Attorneys Bianchi and Levine, who authored the laws.

While hazing is rooted in psychological duress and takes many forms, most hazing has these in common:

  • Peer pressure driven by fear of humiliation or rejection
  • A power differential between abusers and the abused
  • A rite, tradition, or practice that has been occurring for years
  • “Volunteer” participation that is, in fact, compelled by abusers
  • The power of an institution behind it or blessing it

While Greek life is nearly synonymous with hazing, it can occur in any situation where abusers are initiating the abused through humiliating or harmful practices. Hazing takes place in sports, clubs, honor societies, theater troupes, marching bands, and any other organization where membership is at stake.

It’s Time to Speak Up

If you or a loved one were victimized by hazing, it’s time to fight back. Speak with our firm to learn what you can do to take back your voice and hold your abusers accountable. Our hazing lawyers represent people nationwide, helping them get compensation for the injuries they suffered from fraternity hazing, violent hazing, and more. Organizations, especially fraternities, can and should do better. Greek life used to be a vital and valuable part of the lives of countless young people, but hazing has poisoned the experience for thousands of people. If you’re ready to hold them accountable, speak with us in a free consultation today.

Call (305) 770-6335 to discuss your hazing case with our attorneys as soon as possible.

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