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MIT Fraternity Settles Prank-Related Injury Case

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By Jason Beahm on August 11, 2010 7:02 AM

Fraternities are known for pranks, and MIT fraternities are no exception. However, when a MIT fraternity prank went wrong three years ago, two people were severely injured and sued the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity. The fraternity and one of its members, Bhaskar Mookerji, have finally settled the lawsuits for an unspecified six-figure amount.

"No settlement can fully compensate individuals like Tom and Kate for all that they have been through, but they are pleased with this result,'' the victims' lawyer, John J. Barton, wrote in an e-mail to the Boston Globe.

The incident happened on September 6, 2007. Volunteers were removing litter from the water of the Charles River. They picked up a white, brick shaped object and put it in a trash container on board. Minutes later, an explosion occurred, causing massive burns to two volunteers on board, Thomas Soisson and Kate Nardin. The blast also caused thousands of dollars in additional cleanup and decontamination bills.

An investigation would later identify the material as sodium metal, which explodes when exposed to water. Apparently stealing pieces of the material from the MIT chemistry lab and throwing it into the Charles is a common yearly tradition. Police found a video on YouTube celebrating the drops, which eventually led them to investigate the fraternity. Mookerji said that he "voluntarily stepped forward to accept responsibility'' and formally confessed to throwing the sodium metal into the river.

"It was a very complicated legal situation,'' Mookerji said yesterday in a phone interview, with the Boston Globe, "and it was the best route for amicably resolving the affair. It gave closure for the people who got hurt, and it was the right thing to do.'' 

The "prank" caused damage requiring Soisson to undergo skin graft surgery. Nardin was treated for burns and had to return to the clinic nine times for infections and scarring, the Boston Globe reports.

Mookerji was eventually charged with disorderly conduct and environmental pollution. He completed pretrial probation, and after completing 40 hours of community service, the charges were dropped. All things considered Mookerji was incredibly fortunate to receive such a favorable sentence. His intentions might have been innocent, but if things played out only slightly differently, he could have found himself charged with murder or attempted murder and locked in a penitentiary for decades.

Let this be a reminder to all you would be college pranksters getting ready for the start of a new semester: pranks that involve explosions are not such a good idea.

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