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Family of college freshman who nearly died in hazing incident speaks out

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The family of a University of Missouri student who nearly died while pledging a fraternity is speaking out to help ensure that no one else experiences their pain.

Daniel Santulli, 19, was found in cardiac arrest with alcohol poisoning inside a car at University Hospital on Oct. 20 and left disabled following an incident with his pledge class at the former Phi Gamma Delta fraternity last fall.

"Danny was always a good kid. He was happy. He was," his mother, Mary Pat Santulli, told ABC News.

"I saw Danny in the medical ICU at the hospital at Mizzou. And it's just -- it's just a bunch of tubes everywhere," his brother, Nick Santulli, told ABC News. "And that's an image that will probably never leave my head."

In surveillance footage taken inside the frat house shortly after 9 p.m. on Oct. 19, pledges can be seen blindfolded and led downstairs for a ritual known as "pledge dad reveal night."

Danny, then an 18-year-old freshman, was pressured to drink an entire bottle of vodka during the event, according to the family's civil lawsuit that was recently settled against 23 defendants.

"They were given their family bottle of alcohol and then they drank from it and they took them upstairs and for the next two hours, they drank and drink and drink," David Bianchi, the family's attorney, told ABC's Good Morning America.

Just after 10:20 p.m. on the surveillance video, Bianchi said, "we see one of the fraternity members putting a tube in Danny's mouth with a funnel at the other end and pouring beer down his throat while Danny is in the middle of consuming an entire bottle of vodka. That's on the video."

Minutes before 11 p.m., Danny Santulli can be seen losing his balance and falling backward. Other fraternity members carry him out of the room, pick him up and drop him onto a sofa.

At nearly 12:30 a.m., alone on the sofa, he begins to slip onto the floor as the minutes tick by and he struggled to move. Then, he lies still and after 15 minutes another frat member finds him on the floor unresponsive and he lifts Danny back onto the sofa. Other fraternity brothers come into the room and carry Danny toward the door, dropping him on the floor.

Then, outside, fraternity members carry Danny to a car and drive him to the University of Missouri Hospital.

"Just the fact that they knew he was in distress and his lips were blue, and nobody called 911. It's, like, I don't know. I mean a 6-year-old calls 911," Mary Pat Santulli told ABC News.

When he arrived at the hospital, he was in cardiac arrest and not breathing. His blood alcohol level was a near-lethal .46.

After six weeks in the intensive care unit, Danny Santulli was moved to a rehab hospital in Colorado. Now, more than seven months later, he's back home in Minnesota with his family.

His mother said doctors told them he'll need care for life.

"He's still not talking or walking. He's in a wheelchair. He lost his vision. But he hears us, and he knows we're there," she said through tears. "And we'll just keep fighting, and we're not gonna give up hope."

Tom Santulli, his father, added, "We will get through it. We will get through it."

The University of Missouri has since revoked the fraternity's charter and proposed sanctions against 13 of its members.

Prosecutors have charged one fraternity member with two misdemeanors for supplying alcohol to a minor.

When asked if their family believes Danny was hazed, his father said, "Oh, 100%." His mother and sister Meredith agreed.

"They didn't treat him like a brother. They didn't treat him like a friend," Nick Santulli said.

In a statement to ABC News, the fraternity said, "Danny should not have been put in such a situation" and the "fraternity prohibits hazing" and giving alcohol to minors.

"It makes me stick -- sick to my stomach seeing the people involved -- that harmed Danny walking around campus, acting like they did nothing wrong," his sister said.

"A misdemeanor is not gonna wake them up," Danny's father said.

"Missouri has what I would call a rather typical hazing statute," Bianchi said. "And the conduct that occurred that night at pledge dad reveal night is textbook hazing."

The prosecutor's office said its investigation is ongoing and "if appropriate will file additional charges."

His mom is now his full-time caregiver and their family is focused on celebrating any day-by-day progress.

"At the end of the day, it's still Danny. Still looks like Danny. And we're gonna love Danny forever, and we'll always be by his side, no matter what," his brother said.

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