The fraternity Sigma Pi, its former UB chapter and three fraternity members will pay $665,000 to the family of Sebastian Serafin-Bazan to settle a lawsuit over the freshman’s 2019 death after alleged hazing.
The settlement follows an Aug. 15 court order that ended litigation against the national Nashville-based Sigma Pi fraternity, UB’s Epsilon-Omicron chapter, the landlord who owned the fraternity’s house and three then-UB students and fraternity members, according to The Buffalo News.
Sigma Pi will pay $274,000, while its Epsilon-Omicron chapter will pay $206,000. The settlement also includes payments from three former UB students and Sigma Pi members: $125,000 from Joshua Harasimowicz, $40,000 from Ethan Grauer and $5,000 from Ian Buchman. UB Heights Housing LLC, the owner of the house on Custer Avenue where the alleged hazing took place, will pay $15,000.
The lawsuit — filed by Juana Correa, Serafin-Bazan’s mother — alleged that UB, New York state, Sigma Pi, the landlord and four then-unnamed renters at the house “knew that dangerous, improper, unlawful, reckless and criminal conduct was happening and had happened at the premises.”
The university says that hazing is a violation of UB’s code of student conduct and that students involved in such incidents “face suspension and the possibility of expulsion from the university,” but declined to comment on whether or not it had expelled any students in connection to Serafin-Bazan’s death, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is designed to protect students’ privacy.
Yuvraj Tiwari, a former member of UB’s Sigma Pi chapter who was in India when the incident took place, told The Spectrum in an email that UB suspended three Sigma Pi members. He declined to name the three students, only saying that one of the suspended students “went into depression” and lost his “dream job.”
Tiwari was originally named in Correa’s lawsuit, but the case against him was dismissed in January 2022.
Correa is still seeking $20 million from UB and New York State in a separate wrongful death claim that remains active in the state Court of Claims.
Richard M. Aberle, the attorney representing Correa, declined to provide further comment.
“The safety and well-being of all UB students is of paramount importance to the university. UB continues to maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding hazing and aggressively pursues any violations of this policy,” UB spokesperson John Della Contrada said in an email to The Spectrum. “Sebastian’s death was indeed a tragedy. The university again extends its condolences to Sebastian’s family and friends as they continue to cope with his death.”
On April 12, 2019, University Heights residents discovered the freshman medical technology major entering cardiac arrest on a lawn outside 69 Custer Street, a property leased by Sigma Pi members. Serafin-Bazan died in Buffalo General Medical Center on April 17, 2019, five days later.
Sigma Pi members ordered the freshman to perform burpees in the property’s basement on the night of April 11, 2019, into the morning of April 12, according to University Police records obtained by The Spectrum.
Spectrum reporters spoke to University Heights residents that day and learned that Serafin-Bazan allegedly had been recovering from a respiratory illness. He was then taken outside for “fresh air” after he fell and hit his head on a coffee table.
Serafin-Bazan had blunt force injuries to his head, chest, and extremities according to the autopsy filed by the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office.
In response to the incident, UB suspended official activities for all fraternities and sororities for four months and nixed Sigma Pi’s formal recognition as a fraternity. The fraternity’s national administration also dissolved its local chapter in Buffalo.
Following an investigation by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and the Buffalo Police Department, District Attorney John Flynn announced in April 2020 that his office would not press criminal charges. The university commenced its own internal review.
“Several students were disciplined for violations of UB’s code of student conduct following the conclusion of UB’s investigation four years ago,” Della Contrada said. “Because of federal privacy laws protecting student academic records, UB cannot comment on specific disciplinary actions involving specific students. Generally speaking, violations of UB’s student code of conduct can result in a range of actions up to and including expulsion.”
Sigma Pi has been accused of hazing numerous times over the course of a decade, including a case in 2018 in which an Ohio University freshman died while pledging into his university’s Sigma Pi chapter.
Serafin-Bazan was a graduate of Port Chester Senior High School. He arrived in the United States in 2008 from his native Peru and settled in Westchester County with his parents and two brothers. He was 18 years old.
Grant Ashley contributed to this reporting.
Kyle Nguyen is the investigative reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.