ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio — An 18-year-old who died of asphyxiation from nitrous oxide ingestion at a fraternity house was the subject of "extensive hazing" by fraternity members who provided and forced drugs on him, according to a new wrongful death lawsuit.
Collin Wiant died inside a Sigma Pi Epsilon annex house on November 12, 2018, less than two months after finding out he was selected to be part of the 2018 pledge class. During the 2018 Epsilon Chapter pledge class, according to the lawsuit, three of the pledges dropped out and Wiant died.
“The hazing began very quickly to all pledge class members and included just some horrific acts," Rex Elliott, the Wiant family attorney said.
The lawsuit filed by Wiant's family details some of the reported hazing the freshman was subjected to during those two months, including being beaten with a belt, being pelted with eggs, forced to drink a gallon of alcohol in 60 minutes, being deprived of sleep, and being provided with and forced to take drugs that included cocaine, Adderall, Xanax, and nitrous oxide. The hazing reportedly crossed state lines at the beginning of October, when fraternity members took an official trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. During that trip Wiant was reportedly beaten and hit with a belt. “We have evidence of on the Tennessee trip of Collin being beaten so bad he came home with bruising and gashes on his back. It was a terrible, horrific experience for him," Elliott said.
Thursday, the family sued the Sigma Pi fraternity, the Epsilon chapter which operated at Ohio University, and 10 people named only as John Does, who lawyers say they were unable to find the names and addresses of despite their efforts.
The Ohio University student, originally from Dublin, Ohio, was found dead inside the house at 45 Mill Street around 3 a.m. on November 12, after a Sigma Pi fraternity member called 911. The caller, identified as Corbin Gustafson, told the dispatcher "I think he drank a little too much tonight." He wanted to bring Wiant outside to meet emergency officials, according to the lawsuit, but was told by the 911 dispatcher to leave him where he was. He died shortly after the call was made lawyers said, and his body was found surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including whip-its of nitrous oxide.
"I know I'm going to get hazed," Collin Wiant told a friend less than three hours before he was found dead, after he was summoned to 45 Mill Street.
Wiant had been going back and forth to the Crystal Bar and the J Bar in downtown Athens with other members of the Sigma Pi Epsilon chapter since around 8:30 on the night of November 11th. Witnesses reported he seemed fine throughout the evening, acting normal and not heavily intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Before he headed over to the annex house, Wiant and Corbin Gustafson, a member of the fraternity, went to Wiant's dorm room, where another witness reported him "acting completely fine" around 2 a.m. Less than an hour later, Gustafson called 911 to report Wiant was unresponsive.
On September 15, 2018 Wyant found out he was selected as a member of the pledge class along with 10 other young men, his family said. The freshman was later selected as the pledge class President. After that, the fall of 2018 involved a never-ending list of tasks Wiant was forced to do, and physical, verbal, and mental abuse "intended to humiliate and demean him" the family said in their lawsuit. They say on top of doing laundry for all the fraternity members, the teen was required to clean the J Bar after hours, and be available at all hours of the day and night regardless of whether he had classes or academic obligations.
But the worst of the reported hazing occurred at the unofficial annex house located at 45 Mill Street, where several members lived. The lawsuit also claims this was the "hub for hazing activities and to host social events, including parties where drugs and alcohol were made available."
At one point, the lawsuit says all the pledges were locked inside the bedroom of fraternity president Elijah Wahlib at the annex house, and forced to drink a gallon of alcohol in one hour.
Inside the house at 45 Mill Street is a room commonly known as the "Fun Room" or the "Education Room", lawyers said, which was "riddled with holes in the wall, egg shells all over the floor, and pillow cases that were used for some unknown purpose." It was in this room where pledges were reportedly subjected to being whipped with a belt, being pelted with eggs, and forced to do wall sits, among other things, according to the lawsuit. His parents say their son feared the consequences if he didn't go along with demands.
“We have evidence of on the Tennessee trip of Collin being beaten so bad he came home with bruising and gashes on his back it was a terrible horrific experience for him," their attorney said.
Within hours of Wiant's death, members of Sigma Pi Epsilon called an emergency meeting, according to the lawsuit, and rather than being concerned for Wiant, the family attorney said they initiated the current pledge class as full members in order to close ranks and get their story together. “Instead of being concerned about Collin and his family they were concerned about their own survival and that frankly makes me sick to my stomach," Elliott told ABC 6.
It's not the first time a chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity has been accused of hazing. The lawsuit outlines at least two other recent cases involving the fraternity at other universities. In March, 2016, the charter of the Sigma Pi chapter at Hofstra University was revoked after photographs and videos of hazing were made public - including being forced into dog cases, and forced to chug milk and vomit on each other. The lawsuit also references the January 2019 suspension of the chapter at California Polytechnic State University for hazing and violations of alcohol use, among other issues.
In an email, Sigma Pi International's Executive Director and CEO said "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. To my knowledge, Sigma Pi International has not been served with a lawsuit involving Mr. Wiant, so we are not able to comment. If we are served with a lawsuit, our attorneys will review and determine the appropriate response."
One day after Wiant's death, on November 13, 2018, Ohio University issued a cease and desist letter to the Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Pi. Ohio University is not named in the lawsuit, but the family's attorney say they need to do more to crackdown on hazing. “We don’t have any information to suggest now that OU was aware of the kinds of things that were going on with this fraternity to the degree that we would need to in order to go after OU," Elliott said, "But 100% universities - including Ohio University - have an absolute obligation to keep organizations like this in control so young kids aren’t hurt.”
After the lawsuit was filed, a university spokeswoman issued a statement to ABC 6/ FOX 28, saying: "This is a very sad situation, and our hearts go out to Collin’s family and friends who have been impacted by this tragic loss. The Epsilon chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity remains on a cease and desist order from the University, pending investigation."
Wiant is survived by his parents Wade and Kathleen Wiant, and four siblings.