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Family sues after California frat pledge died on hazing hike

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2014, file photo, California State University, Northridge, CSUN, President Dianne Harrison, right, reads a statement regarding Pi Kappa Phi fraternity activities that lead to the death of CSUN student Armando Villa, at a news conference at the CSUN campus in Northridge, Calif. The family of the California college student who died during a fraternity hike sued the organization and the school on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, saying the young man's death was senseless and easily preventable. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The family of a California college student who died during a grueling fraternity hike sued the organization and the school on Wednesday, saying the young man’s death was senseless and easily preventable.

Armando Villa, who attended California State University, Northridge, died a year ago Wednesday after the 19-year-old collapsed during an 18-mile hike organized by Pi Kappa Phi. The group was hiking in hot temperatures with little water and inadequate shoes, a school investigation found.

The investigation concluded that hazing was to blame.

Villa’s mother and stepfather filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the university, school administrators and the fraternity, alleging negligence and hazing. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks unspecified damages.

“We’re just looking for a little closure and justice,” Villa’s mother, Betty Serrato, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “They’ve ruined a life and broken a family.”

The lawsuit alleges that fraternity members forced pledges to go on the dangerous hike without adequate supplies as a last ritual before they could become full-fledged members. The lawsuit says the university had a duty to oversee fraternity activities and should have been aware of and stopped any hazing that was happening.

The national fraternity’s CEO, Mark Timmes, declined to comment on the lawsuit, except to reiterate that the organization closed its chapter at the school after Villa’s death.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with Armando’s family and all those affected by his passing,” Timmes said in a statement.

The university declined to comment on the litigation, but said in a statement that any claim that the school “was in any way responsible for the tragic death of Armando Villa is untrue.”

The school cited its investigation and said it banned the fraternity from ever operating on campus again.

“The death of Armando was a tragedy and our hearts continue to go out to his family and friends,” the statement said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department opened a criminal investigation after Villa’s death, though results haven’t been released, including a coroner’s report.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Biddle, who investigated the case, said he has turned it over to the district attorney’s office to consider whether charges should be filed. A district attorney’s spokesman said the case was under review.

“We want the truth. We still want to know what happened out there,” Serrato said. “We deserve that much at least.”

In September, university President Dianne Harrison condemned hazing while addressing Villa’s death.

“Hazing is stupid, senseless, dangerous and against the law in California,” Harrison said. “It is a vestige of a toxic way of thinking in which it was somehow OK to degrade, humiliate and potentially harm others.”

Harrison is among those named in the lawsuit. She echoed the university statement through a school spokesman Wednesday but declined to comment further.

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