COLUMBIA, Mo. – One year ago, a Mizzou freshman was in the ICU fighting for his life after his family said he attended a fraternity event and was ordered to drink an entire bottle of vodka.
Danny Santulli is now in a wheelchair, blind and unable to talk. He followed in his older brother and sister’s footsteps by attending the University of Missouri. Last fall, he rushed Phi Gamma Delta. One year later, 11 fraternity brothers have been charged, 10 of which indicted by a grand jury for hazing.
Santulli’s dad Tom is speaking out about what happened that night inside the fraternity house and what the past year has been like.
“Deep down inside, I knew it was bad form the minute we got the phone call,” Tom said. “I just knew.”
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.
“At 1:30 a.m. we got a phone call from the emergency room at University Hospital in Columbia,” Tom said. “They verified with my wife that Danny Santulli was her son, and of course my wife said yes. Then, they said, ‘Just so you know, we have him here. He’s on a breathing machine, and we think it’s alcohol poisoning and you better get down here.'”
The Santulli’s are from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, about 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The weekend before the fraternity event, Tom said Santulli cried to his older sister Meredith, who was a junior at Mizzou at that time, about the fraternity.
“He’s not very vocal about his feelings and he broke down,” Tom said. “He’s very close to Meredith and Meredith met him at the fraternity house that Saturday before, and he just broke down. It was wearing him out. Meredith called us that next morning and said, ‘Mom and dad, I’m concerned.'”
Tom said he texted Santulli on Sunday, but Santulli told his dad he was fine and it was going to get better. On the night of Oct. 19, Santulli attended the “Pledge Dad Reveal Night” at Phi Gamma Delta. According to indictment documents, Santulli was handed the “‘family bottle’ of Tito’s Vodka, which Danny was expected to consume in its entirety before the event was over.”
“We didn’t know anything about any event going on at Mizzou, ‘Pledge Dad Reveal Night,’ we had no clue,” Tom said. “If we knew, believe me, we would have been all over it.”
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.”
“I’m really angered about the 911 because if someone would have called 911, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Tom said. “Danny could have used another 20 minutes.”
Tom said he and his wife spoke with their daughter Meredith the entire drive down from Minnesota to Columbia. Once they arrived at the hospital, Tom says he remembers Santulli in the ICU with computers, tubes, wires and doctors and nurses coming in and out.
“At one point the doctor said there’s nothing more we can do, you’re going to have to start thinking about end of life,” Tom said. “I’ll never forget my wife falling on the floor in the ICU.”
However, Santulli did make it after days of being in a ventilator, he was able to breath on his own. He’s now 19 years old and lives with his parents back in Minnesota, where his mom has quit her job to become his full-time caretaker. Currently, Santulli and his parents are in New Orleans, where he is undergoing an oxygen treatment.
“We’re exploring everything,” Tom said. “The doctor here in New Orleans reviewed Danny’s scans from the two locations that we were at previously and said he’s not brain dead. We do see little baby-step improvements with Danny. Lately he’s been showing emotion, like he will have a couple of tears everyday right around 6 or 7 p.m.”
Tom said that Santulli can hear, and the family is constantly telling him stories or updating him on the New York Giants and Yankees.
“We play the Giants’ games for him every Sunday and then with the Yankees being in the playoffs, we bring him in, and he listens, and then I’ll give him updates like Aaron Judge just hit a home run, and he lights up, it’s amazing,” Tom said.
On Wednesday night, Danny’s siblings Meredith and Nick held a candlelight vigil on Mizzou’s campus.
“It’s one year to this day that my family got the dreaded phone call that Danny had gone into cardiac arrest and was revived in the parking lot of the hospital,” Meredith said. “Danny is the most caring, genuine, down to earth person. Danny was so full of life and always made everyone around him smile and laugh.”
Meredith, who is now a senior, said she would see some of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers on campus after the incident.
“I didn’t feel comfortable coming back, I knew they were roaming around this campus,” Meredith said. “I decided to come back in April and was running into them, and they were showing no remorse, and it was just so hard for me. Now knowing that they are finally getting punished gives me more confidence to be here.”
Over the summer, Thomas Shultz and Ryan Delanty were indicted by a grand jury in June. Last month, eight more brothers, 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 was also charged and named in the lawsuit as the member who made Santulli drink the beer from the tube. Wetzler, who was charged over the summer with supply alcohol to a minor, was set to appear in court Tuesday. His attorney asked to continue the hearing until November because he had not heard back from the Boone County prosecutor.
According to court documents, Gandhi is the brother who left Santulli after putting him back on the couch. The family’s lawyer amended the lawsuit in August and named Reichman as the man who carried Danny off the couch and dropped him while taking him to another fraternity member’s car.
The family’s lawyer, David Bianchi, said he’s been told seven fraternity members have been expelled from Mizzou, but the University of Missouri will not confirm and only says that 13 have been disciplined.
The lawsuit also mentioned what Santulli 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 Santulli 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.
Tom said none of the members who have criminally been charged have apologized to the family.
“One of the boys who is named in the civil case, I sat in with Meredith on that hearing at Mizzou and at the end, they asked the boy if there was anything he wanted to say to the Santullis,” Tom said. “That boy said, ‘Mr. Santulli and Meredith, I really care for Danny, I really do.’ That made a huge difference. It shows some type of remorse.”
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. The school sanctioned the fraternity to the alcohol education program and the alcohol event probation.
Over the summer, the Santulli’s settled with 25 defendants in a civil case including fraternity brothers and the national Phi Gamma Delta Organization. The eight brothers that were indicted Friday were charged with Class D felony of hazing and are set to be back in court in October for their arraignment hearings.
“Let me be clear, I don’t want to get rid of fraternities, I still think you can have fun,” Tom said. “My advice, find out who the officers of the fraternity are and what are their credentials.”
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.
The family now wants to raise awareness about hazing to prevent other families from going through the same tragedy.
“It’s still horrific what happened but he’s still here with us today,” Danny’s brother Nick said. “The fact that we get to see him and talk to him every day just means the absolute world.”
His advice, don’t want until it’s too late, call 911 immediately.
“Just call 911 when you see someone in distress, who cares about the fraternity, are you seriously more worried about the fraternity than someone’s life?,” Nick said.
When asked if Santulli will ever be able to talk, see, or walk, Tom said the family is hopeful.
“That’s the million-dollar question, we really don’t know,” Tom said. “We’re hoping and we’re progressing towards that, but there’s a lot of unknowns. On the flip side, he is still with us. Nine out of 10 kids in Danny’s condition die.”
Last week, the University of Missouri sent a letter to fraternity and sorority leaders about new hazing prevention tools. The letter says the “new training consists of three effective, evidence-based courses:”
Hazing Prevention 101 provides techniques to recognize, prevent and report hazing, as well as recommendations for constructive development activities as alternatives to hazing.
Hazing Prevention Fraternity & Sorority Edition provides scenarios and interactive content relevant to the experiences of fraternity and sorority members.
Haze addresses the risks of alcohol and hazing and is a video-based course that follows a real-life hazing incident in 2004 at the University of Colorado.
According to the note, the courses are free to the University of Missouri Community and can be accessed by university login. Mizzou communications director Christian Basi said Friday these tools are not required but the university recommends them and said there will be incentives for students who complete the training.
Several of the fraternity brothers are due back in court next week.