The parents of Collin Wiant – the 18-year-old Ohio University student who died last year in a situation allegedly connected to fraternity hazing – said last Thursday that they want answers about their son’s death.
The interview, which took place at the Athens County Courthouse, came after Kathleen and Wade Wiant – themselves OU alums who participated in Greek Life on campus in the ’80s – watched Thursday in Common Pleas Court as multiple former members of OU’s Sigma Pi fraternity chapter (which Wiant pledged with) all pleaded not guilty to various criminal charges, including hazing.
“It’s just surreal,” Kathleen Wiant said of watching the proceedings. “…It’s been over a year, and it’s still unbelievable. It always feels like Collin’s only been gone a week.”
That day in court, former Sigma Pi President Elijah Wahib, 22, of Westlake, Ohio, pleaded not guilty to counts of: 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.
Former Sigma Pi member Zachary Herskovitz, 22, of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, also pleaded not guilty last Thursday to charges of permitting drug abuse, a felony of the fifth degree and hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. He was an OU student from fall 2016 to spring 2019, as was Wahib, according to OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood.
Cullen Willi McLaughlin, 20, pleaded not guilty to two counts of trafficking in LSD, felonies of the fifth degree. He’s a current OU student.
The Athens County Prosecutor’s Office announced last Tuesday, Nov. 19, that nine people and one local business had been indicted in connection with Wiant’s death, which happened last November while he was at the alleged annex of Sigma Pi on Mill Street in Athens (Sigma Pi has since been expelled by the university). Seven of the people indicted – including Wahib, Herskovitz and McLaughlin – were “affiliated at one time or another” with the OU Sigma Pi chapter.
Wade Wiant said he wasn’t taking satisfaction from the courtroom developments.
“Nobody wins,” he said. “This is a somber moment. This isn’t a moment where we’re excited or happy that justice will be done. Not at all.”
Kathleen Wiant said the main thing the family is seeking is “the truth” of what happened in their son’s death.
“There’s so much we don’t know,” she said. “That would be the greatest gift we could have at this point, just the truth. To live with it for a year where you don’t know what happened during that timeframe, it’s gut-wrenching.”
WHAT’S KNOWN SO FAR IS that Collin Wiant died early in the morning of Nov. 12 after using nitrous oxide (aka “whippits”), with the Athens County coroner ruling that he died of asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion
Athens County EMS found Wiant unresponsive after 911 was called early on Nov. 12 to the aforementioned off-campus residence at 45 Mill St., a half block down from uptown Athens (Wiant later died after being transported to the hospital). So far, multiple individuals – along with Silver Serpent, a local business – have been indicted for allegedly selling and providing that nitrous oxide to Wiant.
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 also 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. The cases in court Nov. 21 were 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, although the fraternity chapter has denied that in court filings (arguing that they revoked his status about two weeks before his death, after a sexual-assault allegation was leveled against Wiant; he was never criminally charged).
Outside of accountability for those who allegedly harmed Collin, his parents said they’re mostly looking for a change in the system to protect future students like Collin.
“We try to concentrate on the big picture, which is changing this,” Wade Wiant said. “This behavior is awful and it can’t stand. We can’t stand to see any more young people lose their lives in a manner that can be completely and utterly solved. There is absolutely no reason that this should have happened.”
To that end, the Wiants said they’re working with several state legislators – including Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville – to create a new bill tentatively called “Collin’s Law.” The measure would mandate that universities provide greater transparency around student organizations’ alleged bad behavior, and to kick up the penalty for hazing in Ohio from a fourth-degree misdemeanor to a felony-level charge.
Kathleen Wiant said they’re hoping the legislation will mandate that universities provide a public report every six months on every student organization that has been found to violate the Student Code of Conduct, and for that practice to go back at least five years.
She added that if rules like that had been in place, her son would still be around today.
“Had he said he wanted to join Sigma Pi, we would have seen that in the spring (2018) there was a violation of the Student Code of Conduct where a student (with Sigma Pi) had his head gashed open. We would have seen that four years before Collin died, the Sigma Pis were suspended for an incident where they had pledges outside in the middle of the night in nothing but their underwear, blindfolded, hazing them in public, in the front yard. So if they’re doing that publicly, I can only imagine what they must have been doing privately.”
Kathleen Wiant said she’s seen records from the university confirming those incidents.
While they’re angered by what happened to their son, the Wiants said they don’t want to see the greek life system done away with entirely. Kathleen and Wade said they met when they attended OU, with Wade “re-colonizing” a chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha and Kathleen serving in a leadership role all four years in Alpha Gamma Delta.
“For years I told people that I had the most dreamy college experience, and I would always sell people on OU, because everything about it was picturesque, including my experience, which was only positive,” Kathleen Wiant said. “It gave me leadership development opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and service opportunities… There was no hazing whatsoever.”
Wade Wiant similarly said he recalls no hazing in his chapter when he went to OU.
“What I got out of the Greek system was, I met my wife, I’ve got a brother-in-law out of it, and two godfathers for my children,” he said.
IN OTHER NEWS, almost everyone else who has been indicted so far in this case has pleaded not guilty since their charges were announced Nov. 19. Their statuses are below.
• 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 last Wednesday morning and was released on his own recognizance.
• Saxon Angell-Perez of Columbus, 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 last Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance.
• Dominic A. Figliola of Athens, 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. He pleaded not guilty last Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance.
• 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. He pleaded not guilty last Friday and was released on his own recognizance.
• 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. He pleaded not guilty last Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance.
• 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 last Wednesday in Athens County Common Pleas Court, and was released on his own recognizance.