Columbia student files suit, claims hazing

COLUMBIA -- A former student who says he was hazed at the Columbia College firehouse has filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $25,000 in damages.

The lawsuit names the Yosemite Community College District, Tuolumne County, Cal Fire, the seven current or former students accused in the hazing, three other firefighters, former fire program supervisor Preston Birdwell and Gary Mendenhall, dean of instructional services at Columbia College.

Andrew Grafius, 20, claims the students physically assaulted him, forced him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and poisoned his food from November 2006 to January 2007. Grafius filed liability claims against the county and YCCD, which were rejected. Grafius was seeking $1,000 in damages from a dorm deposit, $5,000 for medical expenses and more than $10,000 for general damages.

The civil lawsuit is the next step in the judicial process and asks for more than $25,000 and attorney fees.

The district attorney's office has filed charges against seven people. Michael Sacheli, Cary Gregg and Timothy O'Neill are charged with one count each of misdemeanor hazing. Michael Rossi, Aaron Means, Christopher Ingram and Brian Cole each are charged with one count of misdemeanor hazing and one count of misdemeanor battery, according to court documents. All have have pleaded not guilty and are headed to a jury trial in March.

The civil lawsuit names Cole, Rossi, Means, O'Neill and Ingram as well as Shane Ambrosinno, Eric Race and Seth Sanchez.

In addition to the hazing and harassment, Grafius claims county, college and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials knew of the abuse or should have known, and did nothing to stop it.

Columbia's fire station was put on restriction in January 2007, but full status was restored in September. The county, Cal Fire and Columbia College announced a new firefighting program partnership that included more oversight by county fire department officials.

Calls seeking comment from Grafius, his attorney or the seven charged with hazing were not returned.

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