An Ohio University fraternity being sued over the alleged hazing death of a student from Dublin is denying responsibility, stating in a court filing that Collin Wiant was no longer a pledge at the time of his death.

Wiant, an 18-year-old freshman, died Nov. 12, 2018, shortly after medics found him unresponsive at 45 Mill St. in Athens, which his family’s lawsuit refers to as the unofficial annex house of the Sigma Pi fraternity. He died of asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion, an autopsy determined.

He was found surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including canisters of nitrous oxide, also known as “whippets,” according to the lawsuit filed Feb. 14 by Wiant’s parents, Kathleen and Wade Wiant, in Athens County Common Pleas Court.

The Epsilon chapter of Sigma Pi and Sigma Pi International are defendants in the wrongful-death lawsuit. Ten “John Does” also are listed as liable to the plaintiff.

The fraternity, in its response to the lawsuit, says it suspended Wiant “and removed him from its pledging process on or about Oct. 24, 2018,” after learning that police were investigating an allegation that he had sexually assaulted a female student at the university.

No charges were filed against Wiant in the case, which was closed by Ohio University police after his death.

Rex Elliott, the attorney for Wiant’s estate, said the fraternity’s decision to include “unproven, untrue” sexual-assault allegations in its response have caused “great distress” for Wiant’s family.

He also said he has “a mountain of evidence” to show that Wiant was still a fraternity pledge at the time of his death.

An attorney for the legal firm representing the fraternity said they won’t comment on the lawsuit while it is pending.

Sigma Pi admits in its response that some members of the fraternity went with Wiant to an Athens bar in the hours before his death, that some were with him at 45 Mill St. at the time of his death, and that a fraternity member called 911. The response denies that the Mill Street location is an unofficial annex house for the fraternity.

But the fraternity states that Wiant “voluntarily and knowingly” participated in the events that led to his death and “assumed all the risks” associated with those events.

The harm to Wiant was caused by individuals “over whom defendant possesses no control and is not legally or otherwise responsible,” the fraternity states.

The lawsuit alleges that Wiant underwent months of hazing, which it describes as physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. The hazing included Wiant being beaten with a belt, pelted with eggs, deprived of sleep, forced to drink a gallon of alcoholic beverages in an hour, and given cocaine, marijuana, Adderall and Xanax, the lawsuit states.

Wiant was directed to the Mill Street apartment and accompanied by a fraternity member just after midnight on the day of his death, according to the lawsuit.

The university ordered the fraternity to close immediately in the wake of Wiant’s death. The chapter remains closed under a cease-and-desist order.

 

John Futty can be reached at jfutty@dispatch.com or @johnfutty