The family of a University at Buffalo freshman who died after an alleged hazing incident at a fraternity house last year claims in a new lawsuit that the university, the fraternity and the property owner knew about the kinds of activities happening there and did nothing to stop them.
Meanwhile, eight UB students suspected of hazing face disciplinary proceedings, the university said in a written statement.
The lawsuit over the April 2019 death of 18-year-old Sebastian Serafin-Bazan alleges UB, the state, the fraternity's local chapter, the property owners and four unnamed parties who leased the house "knew that dangerous, improper, unlawful, reckless and criminal conduct was happening and had happened at the premises."
"Defendants further permitted hazing to occur and recklessly allowed the fraternity to exist despite prior violations and suspensions as a result of prior similar conduct," attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed July 31 in State Supreme Court in Westchester County.
Serafin-Bazan died in Buffalo General Medical Center on April 17, 2019, five days after he was found unresponsive on the lawn outside a house on Custer Street, in the city's University Heights neighborhood, where members of Sigma Pi fraternity lived.
Police sources at the time told The Buffalo News they believed fraternity brothers ordered Serafin-Bazan to perform exercises inside the residence late on the evening of April 11, 2019, and into the early morning of April 12. Serafin-Bazan, believed to be participating in the pledging process, began to experience physical distress and suffered cardiac arrest.
Preliminary toxicology reports found no drugs or alcohol in his system. No criminal charges were filed in the off-campus incident.
University officials are pursuing disciplinary proceedings after what the school said was an internal review of evidence gathered by Buffalo police, according to the university's statement.
"The review by University Police and UB's Office of Student Conduct and Advocacy found enough evidence to warrant disciplinary proceedings for suspected hazing, a serious violation of UB's Code of Conduct," the university said.
Buffalo police interviewed several students believed to have knowledge of the circumstances of Serafin-Bazan's death, the school said.
Under UB's disciplinary procedures, students face sanctions up to suspension or expulsion. A student whom the university determines was involved in hazing would have a permanent notation put on their official transcript, according to UB.
The lawsuit, filed by Juana Correa, Serafin-Bazan's mother, names UB Heights Housing LLC, Sigma Pi fraternity, the Epsilon-Omicron chapter of the fraternity, the state, UB and four unnamed individuals identified as persons who leased the house on Custer.
The lawsuit did not include any further details about the allegations, including those about prior "violations and suspensions" involving the fraternity chapter. Attorney Richard M. Aberle declined to provide any further information.
Sigma Pi has faced hazing accusations at five other university chapters across the country since 2015, The News reported in May 2019. Five former Sigma Pi members of a chapter at Ohio University have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges following the November 2018 death of a pledge, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
A spokesman for the fraternity, headquartered in Nashville, said the organization was served with the lawsuit and it was in the process of being reviewed by attorneys.
The lawsuit identifies Lauren Leonforte as a representative of UB Heights Housing, a New York City-based company, which is identified as the owner of the residence in Erie County property records. Leonforte could not be reached for comment.
Serafin-Bazan, a native of Peru, came to the United States in 2008, settling with his family in Port Chester in Westchester County. In his first semester at UB, he majored in medical technology and earned a 3.5 GPA, his brother, Sergio Serafin-Bazan, previously told The News.
Sergio Serafin-Bazan also told The News he believed his brother had been ill with respiratory problems for several weeks and went to an emergency room in Buffalo for treatment sometime in March 2019. While at home on spring break, he also visited an emergency room. That was where a doctor told him he had a bad cold, Sergio Serafin-Bazan said.
Sebastian Serafin-Bazan, who had a dorm room in UB's North Campus, was living in the unfinished basement in the Custer Street residence in April 2019 and was being awakened every few hours while pledging the fraternity, his brother said. Police found his suitcase and backpack in the basement of the house, a police source said.
UB suspended the official activities of all fraternities and sororities hours after Serafin-Bazan was found on the Custer Street lawn. Four months later, the ban was lifted on all Greek organizations except Sigma Pi.
The local chapter's charter was revoked by the national organization in January and the fraternity is no longer recognized at UB, the university said.
"The university appreciates the efforts of the Buffalo Police Department to investigate this tragic incident and share detailed files from its investigation,” Christina Hernandez, UB’s interim vice president for student life, said in a written statement. “We’re also very appreciative of the students who voluntarily came forward to help with the investigation."
UB also released a report in August 2019 making recommendations for changes to Greek life at the university.
A spokesperson for the university said many of the recommendations have already been implemented, while the remaining ones are expected to be implemented soon.
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