First-year student arrested on sexual assault charges

One victim said she reported Ricardo Vergara, ’26, to the Title IX office in October for a separate offense of sexual assault—but he faced no disciplinary action

Vergara direct messaged one of his victims and apologized after he assaulted her Oct. 1. (Screenshots shared by victim)

Content warning: This coverage includes references to rape, sexual assault and violence. 


Ricardo Vergara, a former first-year student, secured a $20,000 bond after a second hearing this morning at Lexington General District Court.

As a bail condition, he is not allowed on any college campus and can not come to Lexington or Rockbridge County, except to attend legal proceedings. Otherwise, he must reside in Nashville with his family. Vergara must also avoid all contact with the victim, under the terms of a protective order.

Executive Director of Communications Drewry Sackett confirmed that Vergara is no longer enrolled at Washington and Lee.

In response to Detective Nathan Kesterson’s claim that the university receives notification of all Lexington Police Department investigations, Sackett amended her previous comment.

“To clarify, the university is not routinely notified of all pending criminal cases involving students,” Sackett wrote in an emailed response. “For example, they don’t notify the university every time a student is arrested or charged with a DUI. I can’t speak for Detective Kesterson, but [Kesterson’s comment] sounds as if he was speaking only on behalf of his department and not on behalf of all law enforcement.”

Vergara was arrested Sunday on two felony charges of sexual assault and one misdemeanor charge of sexual battery. 

Vergara may have targeted at least three other female students in his time at Washington and Lee, sources with knowledge of the incidents told the Phi. One assault was reported to the university—and resulted in no disciplinary action against Vergara, the victim in that case told the Phi. 

Vergara’s arrest comes less than one month after Daniel Selby, a former sophomore student, pled guilty to a sexual battery charge in Lexington General District Court. Selby committed multiple violent offenses that the university knew about before his Feb. 3 conviction, the Phi reported. 

Vergara has been held without bond at the Rockbridge Regional Jail since Sunday, Feb. 26. He is still listed as an inmate as of Thursday evening.

Vergara still in jail after Wednesday court appearance

Vergara’s attorney, Sandra Drewniak Nicks, asked Lexington’s General District Court to release her client at a 9 a.m. bond hearing on Wednesday. Judge Christopher Billias delayed his decision to either release or hold Vergara in jail, saying he was weighing Vergara’s threat to the community against the fact that he is presumed innocent—and could lose his college career and scholarship. 

“I don’t think he’s going to flee justice,” Billias said. “[But] threat to the community is a real concern in this case.”

Billias will announce his official decision at a hearing on Friday, March 3 at 9 a.m. 

Vergara’s attorney said her client would return to Nashville immediately to remain under the supervision of his uncle, rather than remaining at school. Nicks did not respond to requests for comment before publication. Vergara’s case manager, Kelsa Reid, declined to comment. 

At the hearing, the court also granted a protective order to the victim, a Washington and Lee student whose name the Phi is not publishing for the sake of privacy. Court documents list the offense date as Jan. 14, the same day as “Tear Night,” a major party night following the Greek rush process

The Lexington Police Department issued arrest warrants for Vergara because he was “alleged to have raped a fellow student that was extremely intoxicated,” court documents said. 

Prosecuting attorney Adam LaFon said in court that Vergara should not be released due to the severity of his alleged crimes.

“I don’t believe Mr. Vergara needs to be anywhere near a college campus,” LaFon said. “He didn’t respect her boundaries, he knew what he did was wrong, and this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened.”

A previous assault went mostly unpunished by W&L

Another student spoke with the Phi anonymously to preserve her privacy. She said that after talking to her Resident Advisor and a friend, she filed a Title IX complaint against Vergara days after he had followed her back to her dorm, took her to Woods Creek trail while she was intoxicated and assaulted her on Oct. 1. 

That victim chose to forego a formal investigation, instead establishing a “no contact” policy with Vergara through the Title IX office. No contact orders are supportive measures that don’t require an investigation.

In other words, the Title IX office imposed no disciplinary consequences on Vergara for the incident.

“I was traumatized. I wasn’t sure how much I was willing to do,” the victim said. “I didn’t have the strength to go through any sort of investigation. I knew people who had gone through similar sorts of investigations and it didn’t work for them.”

The victim said she didn’t recall Title IX Coordinator Lauren Kozak telling her about the option of reporting through law enforcement. 

Vergara went to the Title IX office himself and admitted to the incident, the victim said. He told her so in an Instagram direct message on Oct. 7., which the Phi reviewed. 

Vergara told one of his victims that he went to the Title IX office and confessed to the assault. (Screenshots shared by victim)

“I talked with Lauren the Title IX coordinator. And I explained [to] her our situation,” Vergara wrote. “I am not sure if you are open to talk with her and me. But I am just letting you know that I am because I am really sorry for my actions.”

The victim noted that the Title IX office hadn’t checked in with her since the initial meetings. She said she recently considered bringing the issue back to the office, before learning that Vergara was in jail. 

The victim said the harshest reckoning from the incident has been the damage to her worldviewit’s now “far more cynical and paranoid.”

“It was very, very demoralizing, and it kind of ruined any sort of excitement I had about the idea of being away from home for the first time,” the victim said. “I had a lot of hopes beginning my first year. This kind of killed most or all of them.”

Vergara was “balled,” or banned from rushing, by Pi Kappa Alpha after that instance of assault. A week later, he tried to force himself on a close friend of the first victim, she said. 

The victim said she personally knew at least two other people Vergara had abused or harassed, not including the person who went to the police this year. 

A former friend of Vergara said that later in the semester, Vergara tried to forcibly kiss another female student at a Lambda Chi Alpha party. That resulted in him getting “balled” from Lambda’s rush process as well, the source said.

‘They’re conducting business and we’re investigating criminal activity’

Kesterson, who investigates sexual assault cases for the Lexington Police Department, said Washington and Lee students could be reporting incidents to the police because they are concerned about how the university handles these issues. 

Kesterson said the police handle sexual assault reports “completely differently” from the university’s procedures.  

“They’re trying to get the best outcome for them and the potential victim and the potential suspect,” he said. “I think they’re trying to play more of the mediator, whereas we’re trying to really get to the root of the criminal activity.” 

Kesterson hopes more students come to him to report sexual misconduct and talk through their options. 

“As an investigator and as a detective with our department, I look at the aspect of the criminal activity and I look at how it’s impacted the victim,” he said. “And I try to work with the victim to get the best outcome for them. I’m working for the victim.”

In Selby’s case, for example, Kesterson said the victim pursued a plea deal to avoid testifying in court. That’s why Selby’s charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. 

“And that may be what happens here,” Kesterson said. “We’ll have to wait and see what’s best for our victim in this case and what she wants to do.”

I think they’re trying to play more of the mediator, whereas we’re trying to really get to the root of the criminal activity.

— Detective Nathan Kesterson

 Kesterson also said all LPD investigations are reported to the university, contradicting a previous claim by Sackett. 

Sackett told the Phi Feb. 15 that Washington and Lee is not routinely alerted by local law enforcement on pending criminal cases involving students. But Kesterson said the police department is often the one left in the dark about Title IX reports. 

There’s a lot of times where we get those complaints through mandatory reporting, and it’s sent to us in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office,” Kesterson said. “But what I found in my career is that all those complaints don’t make it to us.” 

The Title IX office’s scope of authority

Kozak said the university can’t punish an accused student for Title IX violations unless a formal complaint process is filed. But the university also has the ability to file a formal complaint, even if a victim doesn’t. 

Formal complaint processes take 70 days to complete on average. While underway, the university cannot take any disciplinary measures against the student, unless the Threat Assessment Team determines there is an immediate safety or health threat sufficient for removal. 

Dean Dave Leonard, who is currently the interim head of Public Safety, directed questions and requests for documents to Sackett. Sidney Evans, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

As of Thursday evening, Vergara is still listed in the student directory. Vergara said during his Wednesday hearing that he doesn’t know his enrollment status at the university.

“I am not sure of that yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, it’s still unclear whether the university ever took disciplinary action against Selby, who told a source he left voluntarily after his conviction of sexual battery.