A Drunken Hazing, a Fatal Fall and a Cornell Fraternity’s Silence


Once he arrived at the fraternity house, Mr. Tsialas was assigned to a group with other freshmen, and they were guided through Christmas-themed rooms full of alcohol. A fraternity brother told them never to divulge that they were at the party, and he also was careful to stipulate that no one was obliged to drink, but several freshmen later told the police that they were soon pushed to. One freshman who had been determined not to drink too much ended up vomiting into a trash can at the frat house.

Few said they remembered seeing Mr. Tsialas at the party. Those who did said he seemed happy, social and, before long, drunk.

At some point, Mr. Tsialas began looking for Felipe Hanuch, the sophomore fraternity brother who played with him on the club soccer team and had invited him to the party. Mr. Tsialas called Mr. Hanuch twice around 10:15 p.m., conversations that lasted for about two minutes combined.

Mr. Hanuch told the police the next day that Mr. Tsialas had called him once from a bathroom and asked him to come to the party, according to the police file. Mr. Hanuch also said he had been at the library until midnight, well after the party ended, but an officer wrote in the file that he believed Mr. Hanuch was “lying about his whereabouts.” Several fraternity members told the police that Mr. Hanuch had been stationed outside the house as a “sober monitor,” one of several people who were supposed to keep an eye on attendees. After his initial interview, Mr. Hanuch retained a lawyer and never spoke to the police again. Reached by phone recently, Mr. Hanuch said he did not want to talk.

Matt Van Houten, the Tompkins County district attorney, said in an interview that the fraternity brothers’ silence had infuriated him, even though they are within their rights to not speak with the police.

“It seems to me that all these kids who lawyered up just had a complete moral failure,” he said. “That instinct of covering your own ass at the expense of these parents who are devastated, losing their oldest son and losing a child in that way, it’s so incredibly selfish.”

Shortly after his calls to Mr. Hanuch from the party, Mr. Tsialas called Pierce Lukonaitis, who lived in his freshman suite and was one of his closest friends on campus. Mr. Lukonaitis quickly noticed that Mr. Tsialas sounded drunk. Mr. Tsialas left a voice mail message on his mother’s phone a few minutes later, at 10:29 p.m., but it contained nothing more than echoes and background noises; she did not realize he had called until the next day and thinks it was a pocket dial.