Another angle of the vehicle that rolled last February while transporting three freshmen to an off-campus fraternity party. Courtesy of Edward Weiner.

Another angle of the vehicle that rolled last February while transporting three freshmen to an off-campus fraternity party. Courtesy of Edward Weiner.

Broadside was approached by attorney Edward Weiner, an attorney with Weiner, Rohrstaff and Spivery, PLC, and one of his clients to write a story about an incident that happened in February 2009 and a lawsuit in relation to the incident against a George Mason University fraternity chapter, the national chapter of the fraternity and two students in that fraternity. The client wished to remain anonymous and was granted that request in exchange for a detailed and candid interview about her experiences regarding the event.  Asterisks will be placed by the client’s name on first mention in the story.

Across the nation, Friday night means party time for college students. For George Mason University students, it often means traveling off campus to bars or fraternity houses for a night of dancing, drinking and meeting new people.

For freshmen girls in particular, Friday night presents its own dangers; in the first weeks of school, fraternity members stake out Presidents Park, inviting the newest members of the Mason community to their parties and offering free shuttles to get to off-campus party spots.

Their first night on campus, freshmen MistyDawn Forester, an English major, and her roommate Kelly Ferguson, an undeclared major, were invited to a party while walking through Presidents Park and declined.

“Later that night, we came back out and there were a lot of people and a girl we know was like ‘come to the party, we’re going, he’s going to drive us’ and we were like, ‘okay’ and [we went],” Forester said. “I don’t have a car here, but if I did I’d honestly prefer to know the address and drive ourselves there, but I just kind of assume that that’s not how it works here for the frat parties.”

“The first guy I rode with, they said that he was getting high or something,” said Lindsey Blue, a freshman, undeclared major, who says all the other rides she’s gotten to fraternity parties have been safe. “He got high before he drove us and he was going down like these 35 [mph] roads at 60 miles an hour,” she said.

A year and a half ago, Lindsey White** was just a freshmen herself, a tall, pretty blonde looking for somewhere to go on a Friday night with friends, who wound up getting into what she was told was a shuttle to go to a fraternity party.

What Lindsey didn’t know is that a year and a half later, she would still be recovering from injuries she sustained after a reckless driving accident en route to that fraternity party and be on one side of a $20 million lawsuit against Alpha Epsilon Pi, Inc., the Gamma Mu chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi at George Mason University, Mikhail Vinokur, president of the Mason chapter, and Jacob Dilles, a fraternity member who was driving the car she hopped into that night.

Feb. 6, 2009

It’s uncharacteristically warm for a night in early February. Lindsey, wearing a tank top, jeans and flip-flops, with her two friends by her side, is ready for a night out. With their previous plans having fallen through, Lindsey calls up a brother she knows from AEPi and she says he lets them know where they can catch a shuttle to the party.

Chattering and excited, the trio leaves Presidents Park headed for Student Union Building I in time to hitch a ride to the party. When they get there, Lindsey sees the fraternity brother she knows with about four other people also waiting for a ride to the party.

Two cars pull up to the back of SUB I and as instructed, Lindsey and her friends get into the back of the second car. The fraternity brother she called about the party is in the front passenger seat and turns to her and her friends and tells them that Jacob Dilles, the man driving the car, can get them to the party faster going a longer way than the other car can going a shorter way, she says.

“We were kind of like, ‘are we supposed to be impressed by that?’ We kind of blew it off,” Lindsey said.

Feeling down for her seat belt, Lindsey comes up empty and gives up on looking.

“I couldn’t find the actual buckle, so I gave up and that became an afterthought.”

When the car gets to Patriot Circle, Dilles is already speeding, Lindsey says.

“Being in the moment, I thought it was unsafe, but I kind of had this feeling like ‘nothing’s gonna happen to me, I’m scared, but…’”

The car takes Braddock Road west, turns right on Shirley Gate Road and ends up on Waples Mill Road.

“It’s an extremely tight road, curvy, there’s only two lanes and that’s when I really started to get scared because he continued speeding.”

According to Lindsey, Dilles reached speeds of at least 55 mph on Waples Mill, a road with a posted speed limit of 35 mph.

Despite pleas to slow down, Lindsey says Dilles continued to push his limits on the two lane road by passing a slower-moving vehicle in front of him by going over the double yellow line, using the lane intended for oncoming traffic.

The car then fishtailed, rolled and Lindsey, not secured by a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle.

“My last memory was my head hitting the side of the car as he was fishtailing and then later I woke up on the ground like 10 feet away from the car or more,” Lindsey said. “I just couldn’t believe it had happened to me,” Lindsey said. “I feel like I’m just a normal person, what are the chances that I could get involved in something like this? I really was lured into a false sense of security, because people take shuttles to parties all the time, I had done it before that incident, ya know, a bunch of times and I don’t really remember how the other drivers drove, but it seemed to be safe.”

Following the incident, Lindsey says she had to take off a semester of school, was confined to a back and neck brace for three months and due to her carotid arteries being severed in the incident, Lindsey currently stands the risk of having a stroke.

“I’m a pretty active person, so this kind of limited mobility just drove me nuts,” Lindsey said.

Dilles’ lawyer, Alan Siciliano, an attorney with DeCaro, Doran, Siciliano, Gallagher and DeBlasis, LLP declined comment for this story.

Francis Prior, Jr., an attorney with Siciliano, Ellis, Dyer and Boccarosse, who will represent Alpha Epsilon Pi, Inc., the Gamma Mu chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Inc. and the president of the Gamma Mu chapter also declined comment due to recent involvement in the case.

Fairfax County court records show that on Feb. 17, 2009, Dilles was charged with reckless driving, a class one misdemeanor, following the Feb. 6 incident and plead not guilty at a May 27 hearing.

Dilles was found guilty and fined $500 and served 30 days of a 360-day sentence for the reckless driving charge.

Lindsey has filed a civil lawsuit in Fairfax County for $20 million against Dilles, Vinokur, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Inc. and the Gamma Mu chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Inc. at Mason.

The court documents filed by Lindsey state that Dilles is being sued for $10 million on for negligence because he failed to “maintain proper control of his vehicle,” and failed to “maintain a safe speed” and “have fully functioning seat belts in his vehicle” and for willful and wanton conduct for “recklessly, carelessly and maliciously” operating his vehicle “in a manner that endangered the lives of his passengers.”

Alpha Epsilon Pi, Inc., the Gamma Mu chapter and Vinokur are also being sued in the amount of $10 million for negligence and willful and wanton conduct for failing to provide driver training for Dilles and letting him drive the night of the incident according to the document.

As the driver of the shuttle, the lawsuit says that Dilles was “acting as an agent of Gamma Mu and AEP” and as such had a responsibility “to operate his motor vehicle responsibly, in a manner free from negligence and with due regard for the safety of others.”

“I come back to the term shuttle,” Edward Weiner, Lindsey’s attorney said, “and then you attach to it a national fraternity and it just gives it that aura of oversight, safety, someone’s in control of this, these guys have been checked out, they’re good drivers—there’s some seal of authority when you call it a shuttle.”

Lindsey has not been to a fraternity party since the incident and remains grateful she escaped the Feb. 6 incident with her life.

“I could have gone straight into a tree, what if we had flipped another way on that road? We could have gone into an oncoming car, I could have killed, everyone else in the car could have been killed,” Lindsey said.

Still plagued by anxiety and back problems, Lindsey wants incoming freshmen to know the danger associated with getting in the car with strangers.

“I just think it’s important for freshmen girls to be aware that that shuttle that they think is just how they’re getting to the party, there’s some risk involved there.”

Chris Jefferson, head of fraternity and sorority life, declined comment on whether or not shuttles were dangerous or if they were regulated in any way, but did say that there is no official relationship between the university and shuttles.

“We don’t condone it, it’s not in any way related to us as the administration,” said Jefferson. “One bit of advice that I would offer: consider on a typical day, would you get in the car with a stranger to go somewhere where you don’t know where you’re going?”

Baker Harcrow, president of Tau Delta Phi fraternity, says that due to his fraternity house’s proximity to campus, Tau Delta Phi does not offer shuttles to parties, but rotates designated driver duties among brothers for of-age party attendees who need a lift home.

“Anything can become dangerous, for a variety of reasons, but on the whole, fraternity-offered shuttles do much more good than harm,” said Harcrow, who says that shuttles protect party attendees and those hosting parties as well from being arrested or endangering others. “They protect the people attending parties and the people hosting parties–no one wants to spend the night in jail on a charge of public intoxication, and no one wants to be responsible for letting someone spend the night in jail on a charge of public intoxication.”

Fourteen other fraternity presidents contacted for this article did not respond or declined comment on whether or not their fraternities ran shuttles to their parties.

“Students often think the party is where they need to be careful,” said Weiner, “you just aren’t on guard that the danger starts right there.”