The Athens County Prosecutor’s Office announced Tuesday that nine people and one local business have been indicted in connection with the death of 18-year-old OU student Collin Wiant, who died last November while at the alleged annex of an OU fraternity chapter that since has been expelled by the university.
County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said Tuesday that seven of the people indicted were affiliated “at one time or another” with the then OU fraternity chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity, including the fraternity’s former chapter president, Elijah Wahib, 22 of Westlake, Ohio.
OU expelled the Sigma Pi chapter earlier this year due to numerous violations of the Student Code of Conduct. (Wahib is no longer an OU student as of spring semester 2019, OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood confirmed Friday.)
Meanwhile, James Wanke, 25, general manager of the Silver Serpent stores in Athens, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and improperly dispensing nitrous oxide (N2O), among other charges, in relation to Wiant’s death. Wanke pleaded not guilty Wednesday to those charges in Athens County Common Pleas Court. He was released on his own recognizance, so long as he abides by several restrictions, including that the Silver Serpent no longer sell nitrous oxide.
Wiant died after using nitrous oxide (aka “whippits”), and the Athens County coroner ruled that Wiant died of asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion. Assistant Prosecutor Meg Saunders confirmed Tuesday that the state is alleging that Silver Serpent is the business that sold the nitrous oxide in question, which came in a 50-pack of canisters. N2O at one time was parochially known as “laughing gas.”
Saunders explained that in Ohio, nitrous oxide can only be sold for “culinary purposes,” and said there’s a strict requirement that stores only sell it to people 21 years or older after being asked for their identification; and that stores document the person’s name, address and intent in how to use it. Saunders alleged that on two separate occasions, including the occasion when the Serpent sold the nitrous oxide related to the Wiant case, “none of that happened.”
WIANT WAS FOUND UNRESPONSIVE last November at an off-campus residence at 45 Mill St., just a half block down from uptown Athens (Wiant later died after being transported to the hospital). Blackburn’s office is alleging that “multiple members of the Sigma Pi Fraternity lived in and used” that house for fraternity activities, while OU officials previously have alleged that the home was an unofficial annex of the fraternity.
Wiant’s death is the subject of a lawsuit that Wiant’s parents filed in Athens County Common Pleas Court earlier this year, alleging that the fraternity chapter caused Wiant’s death through hazing activities. These are the first criminal charges filed in connection with Wiant’s death.
Wiant allegedly was a pledge of the Sigma Pi chapter at the time of his death. OU initiated a cease-and-desist order for all organizational activities for the fraternity chapter a day later.
The people indicted so far are listed below, along with their charges. The first seven people are those allegedly affiliated with the fraternity chapter, Blackburn said, while the final two allegedly worked at the Silver Serpent store on North Court Street in Athens. (The business has a second store on East State Street on the Far East Side.)
• Joshua Thomas Androsac, 20, of Lewis Center, Ohio, charged with permitting drug abuse, a felony of the fifth degree; hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree; involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree; two counts of trafficking in harmful intoxicants, felonies of the fifth degree; and trafficking in cocaine, a felony of the fifth degree. He pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Wednesday morning and was released on his own recognizance.
• Saxon Angell-Perez, of Columbus, Ohio, charged with permitting drug abuse, a felony of the fifth degree; hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree; and trafficking in cocaine, a felony of the fifth degree. He is a current OU student, according to Leatherwood. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance.
• Dominic A. Figliola, of Athens, Ohio, charged with permitting drug abuse, a felony of the fifth degree; hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree; aggravated trafficking in drugs, a felony of the fourth degree; and failure to comply with underage alcohol laws, an unclassified misdemeanor. He was an OU student up until spring 2019.
• Corbin Michael Gustafson, 22, reckless homicide, a felony of the third degree. Gustafson was the one who called 911 on Nov. 12 last year about Wiant’s unresponsive condition, according to 911 call records obtained by The NEWS. He was an OU student from fall 2017 to fall 2018.
• Zachary Herskovitz, 22, of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, permitting drug abuse, a felony of the fifth degree; hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. He was an OU student from fall 2016 to spring 2019.
• Cullen Willi McLaughlin, 20, two counts of trafficking in LSD, felonies of the fifth degree. He is a current OU student.
• Elijah Robert Wahib, 22, of Westlake, Ohio, charged with tampering with evidence, a felony of the third degree; permitting drug abuse, a felony of the fifth degree; hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree; assault, a misdemeanor of the first degree; obstructing justice, a felony of the fifth degree; and failure to comply with underage alcohol laws, an unspecified misdemeanor.
• James Dylan Wanke/Silver Serpent, LLC, 25, charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree; two counts of trafficking in harmful intoxicants, felonies of the fifth degree; involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the third degree; and improperly dispensing or distributing nitrous oxide, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.
• Stephan Brent Lewis, 27, trafficking in harmful Intoxicants, a felony of the fifth degree; and improperly dispensing or distributing nitrous oxide, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. Lewis worked at Silver Serpent (and may still). Brent also pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Wednesday morning in Athens County Common Pleas Court, and was released on his own recognizance.
OU SPOKESPERSON LEATHERWOOD said Tuesday that the progress on this criminal case is “encouraging.”
“The tragic death of Collin Wiant was devastating for our community, and it is encouraging to see progress being made in the criminal case,” Leatherwood said. “Our thoughts remain with the Wiant family following the heartbreaking loss of their son last November.”
The Wiant family’s lawsuit alleges that Wiant was the victim of hazing by the Sigma Pi Fraternity’s Epsilon Chapter in Athens, with the Sigma Pi Fraternity’s international organization also named in the suit. It alleges that Wiant fell victim to hazing, and was provided with, or forced to take, “illegal drugs containing nitrous oxide” by fraternity members, with small canisters of nitrous allegedly found near his body.
The Epsilon Chapter of the fraternity, in its response to the lawsuit filed earlier this year, however, claimed that Wiant was no longer a pledge of the fraternity at the time of his death (The Wiants’ attorney has responded to that assertion, calling it a “flat-out lie.”)
The chapter maintains that it suspended him and “removed him from the pledging process” on Oct. 24, 2018 (he died on Nov. 12) because it had received information “that an allegation of sexual assault had been made against Collin Wiant, and that a police investigation of such allegation had been commenced.”
Wiant was never charged despite the existence of that investigation, as confirmed in public records provided by the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office earlier this year.
THE SUIT ALLEGES that much of the hazing that Wiant experienced happened inside the “fun room” or “education room” as it was called by the fraternity, where pledges, including Wiant, were “whipped with a belt… pelted with eggs, forced to do wall sits, among other forms of hazing.”
Additionally, Wiant was forced to do constant tasks for the fraternity, according to the suit.
“Due to the never-ending list of tasks required of him by the fraternity, Collin was forced to miss many classes and forego sleep,” the suit reads. “This caused a decline in Collin’s academic performance.”
The suit alleges that Wiant and other pledges were locked inside former fraternity President Wahlib’s bedroom at the Mill Street apartment and were forced to drink a gallon of alcohol in one hour. (It’s not stated what sort of alcohol was involved.) They were also forced to “play football” inside the house, without protective gear, being forced to tackle and hit each other. The suit lists a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where Wiant allegedly was pelted with eggs, hit with a belt, and repeatedly punched by other members of the fraternity.
The suit also alleges that within a few hours of Wiant’s death, the fraternity chapter called an “emergency meeting of its members” to initiate all current pledges as full members of the fraternity chapter.
“This action was designed to close ranks within all fraternity members to make sure they all told the same story concerning the events of earlier that morning,” the suit alleges.