Former fraternity pledge Michael Gallagher Jr. says he fell asleep at the wheel on the night of Nov. 6, 2016.
His truck veered and struck 24-year-old Rustam Nizamutdinov, a fellow University of Louisiana at Lafayette student who was walking home.
Nizamutdinov, said to be just one month away from earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering, died at the scene. His death stunned the community of international students on campus.
Gallagher, 20, contends that he was forced to stay awake for three days straight during hazing at Kappa Sigma fraternity so he could be a designated driver during homecoming that weekend. Now he and his parents are suing university officials, the fraternity and unnamed frat members. The lawsuit was filed Nov. 3.
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Documentation of the university’s investigation into the fraternity’s activities, obtained through a public records request from the media, reveal hazing practices that included fighting, paddling, forced servitude, cigarette burns on bodies and forced alcohol consumption.
On Monday, the anniversary of the wreck, Gallagher posted an emotional essay on his Facebook page.
“R.I.P. Rustam Nizamutdinov,” he wrote. “Exactly one year ago, November 6, 2016 we had our horrible, traumatic, car accident.
“God took you into his hands and He wrapped his arms around me during the crash. I don’t know why it was you and not me but I do know you continue to watch over me in heaven just as I pray for you and your family everyday.
“We both haven’t figured out yet why this has happened and I cannot say it enough how sorry I am or how I wish things would been different, but we both now know that God works in mysterious ways. I believe he has bigger plans for the both of us. I know you continue to help me in my life everyday.”
Nizamutdinov’s mother, Farida Shavkatova, of Uzbekistan, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and some of its members in September, charging that Gallagher had been subjected to “extreme sleep deprivation” before the crash that took her son’s life.
Both lawsuits seek unspecified damages, according to The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette.
“The actions of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and its affiliates caused the tragic death of one young man and irrevocably altered the life of another,” Gallagher family representative, Barry Sallinger, wrote in an email to KATC in Lafayette, La.
“The senseless, impudent and barbarous hazing practices of the fraternity were institutional and long-standing. It is unfathomable how these practices were not detected and dealt with by the University a long time ago.”
The suit charges that the school “knew or should have known of the persistent pattern of hazing,” and that it “violated their duty to protect students and other individuals attending fraternity functions to act within reasonable bounds to protect against illegal and proscribed hazing.”
The university suspended the Epsilon-Chi chapter in February. Kappa Sigma’s national headquarters revoked the chapter’s charter and dismissed its 92 members in July after its own investigation into hazing allegations.
According to KATC, Gallagher’s lawsuit contends he was “forced to be a designated driver for intoxicated” frat members and blames “several days of hazing” for why he lost control of the car around 1:40 a.m.
When he crashed, Gallagher thought he had hit a pole and called his parents. The lawsuit says that when Michael Gallagher Sr. and Amy Gallagher arrived at the scene, their son was “in shock,” his truck was totaled and Nizamutdinov’s body was nearby.
Toxicology reports showed no sign of chemical impairment, the police report said. And though Gallagher told police after the crash that he had been awake for 36 hours, the lawsuit claims he had been deprived of sleep for as many as 72 hours.
The district attorney did not charge him and told KATC this week that there was no evidence that Gallagher had committed a crime.
The school’s investigation discovered that the fraternity’s hazing activities included blindfolding pledges, tying them up and punching them in the face, the TV station reported.
Best friends among the pledges were forced to fight each other wearing boxing gloves.
During tailgating at football games, “under-age new members were randomly instructed to drink the rest of the actives’ alcoholic drinks.” The documents said some of those members “were reportedly so intoxicated that they could barely carry all of the tailgate things back to the house and sorority women helped them.”
From Oct. 29 to Nov. 5 last year, new members were expected to stay awake all night or risk being yelled at by other members or having water and other liquid thrown on them.
“The facts and circumstances of the unfortunate traffic accident fatality is something that is involved in a lawsuit and discovery in the lawsuit will determine the actual facts,” Kappa Sigma’s executive director, Mitchell B. Wilson, told KATC in an email this week.
The university declined comment on the lawsuit “out of respect for the judicial process and the multiple parties involved in this tragedy.”