The parents of a dead fraternity pledge have filed a lawsuit against the fraternity, alleging their son died last fall as a result of extensive hazing.
While pledging the Sigma Pi fraternity at Ohio University, Collin Wiant was allegedly made to undergo severe hazing, including being beaten with a belt, punched, made to take drugs, forced to drink a gallon of alcohol in an hour and deprived of sleep.
“The hazing caused bodily injury, emotional distress and ultimately, Collin Wiant’s death,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Athens County Court, a toxicology report showed Wiant died of “asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion.” Canisters of nitrous oxide are sometimes used as inhalants, known as “whippets.”
In an interview with CNN, Rex Elliott, the Wiant family’s attorney, said there was “little doubt” Wiant’s death was caused by being forced into hazing activities.
“He would be alive today if they hadn’t hazed him,” Elliott said.
The lawsuit names as defendants the chapter at Ohio University, the Sigma Pi International office and 10 John Does that the suit claims are liable for Wiant’s injuries. It accuses them of hazing, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.
A spokeswoman for the Athens, Ohio, school extended the university’s condolences to Wiant’s family in a statement and said its local Sigma Pi fraternity chapter “remains on a cease and desist order from the university, pending investigation.”
The fraternity chapter did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
Sigma Pi Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Frost said in a statement to CNN on Friday that the fraternity had not been served with a lawsuit and was unable to comment.
“We are aware of the tragic passing of Collin Wiant this past November and we continue to extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” Frost said.
The alleged hazing
According to the lawsuit, Wiant began pledging the Epsilon chapter of Sigma Pi in mid-September 2018. He was also chosen as the pledge class’ president.
He would die less than two months later.
The lawsuit says that inside the fraternity’s house is a room the members refer to as the “Fun Room” or the “Education Room,” where much of the alleged hazing took place.
While pledging, Wiant was made to do laundry for other members, clean and be available at all times of the day or night with no regard for his academics, the lawsuit says. The “never-ending” chores meant Wiant went without sleep and missed classes, hurting his academic performance.
Wiant was also verbally, physically and mentally abused and forced to drink and take drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, Adderall and Xanax, the lawsuit alleges.
He was allegedly pelted with eggs, and he and other pledges were forced to play full-contact football inside the frat house near Ohio University’s campus. He was “repeatedly punched” by fraternity members.
On the evening of November 11, Wiant went out with several other fraternity members, the lawsuit says. Witnesses describe Wiant as acting “normal” throughout the evening.
Around midnight on November 12 Wiant was told by a fraternity member to go to the frat house, and Wiant allegedly said, “I know I’m going to get hazed.”
At 2:50 a.m., a fraternity member called 911 and said Wiant was “unresponsive” inside the house.
“Collin Wiant died inside the Epsilon Chapter annex house shortly after the 911 call was made,” the lawsuit alleges. “His body was found surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including canisters of nitrous oxide.”
Hours later, the chapter convened an “emergency meeting,” the lawsuit says, to initiate the pledges as official members of the fraternity in an effort to “close ranks within all fraternity members to make sure they all told the same story concerning the events of earlier that morning.”
Like many other parents whose sons have died of alleged hazing practices, Wiant’s parents filed the lawsuit to bring awareness to dangerous hazing practices, Elliott told CNN.
“Wade and Kathleen, his parents, want to make sure that this lawsuit prevents other families like theirs from losing 18-year-old college kids to senseless behaviors like this which goes on at college campuses around the country,” he said. “There’s no place for it in 2019.”