The Athens County Prosecutor’s Office indicted nine men Tuesday after a year-long investigation into a student death in a fraternity annex house.
Collin Wiant, 18, of Dublin, died from asphyxiation due to nitrous oxide ingestion in the Sigma Pi annex house, 45 Mill St., on Nov. 12, 2018.
Athens County Prosecuting Attorney Keller Blackburn said the Athens Police Department immediately started investigating after the incident.
“These things aren’t simple and these charges aren’t simple, so it takes some time to process,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said the prosecutor’s office relied on Ohio University to complete its investigation before it could move forward with their investigation. The University Hearing Board found the fraternity in violation of 10 different allegations, including four counts of hazing, and expelled Sigma Pi in April.
The office also had first contact with APD about the case in April. APD also began to investigate Silver Serpent Exotic Gifts, 55 N. Court St., in September.
James Wanke, 25, the manager at the store, will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, trafficking in harmful intoxicants and improperly dispensing or distributing nitrous oxide. Stephan Lewis, 27, an employee at the store, will be charged with trafficking harmful intoxicants and improperly dispensing or distributing nitrous oxide.
The store did not keep proper records of nitrous oxide sales, sold to people under 21 and sold an inhaler device. Nitrous oxide is only meant to be purchased for cooking, Blackburn said.
APD submitted their case to the prosecutor’s office in late September. The office completed its own investigation as it saw fit, Blackburn said.
One year later
It has been over a week since the one year anniversary of Collin’s death.
Rex Elliot, the Wiants’ lawyer, said Collin’s parents have to deal with the loss of their son everyday.
“Everytime a kid dies [from hazing], they feel like their message isn’t getting out,” Elliot said.
Elliot said Kathleen and Wade Wiant, Collin’s parents, have been traveling around the country to educate students on college campuses about the dangers of hazing.
They want to get the message out to the world that hazing will have consequences. The Wiants want to eliminate hazing now so another person doesn’t have to die because of it. The parents are also fighting to make hazing a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
“Without severe consequences, we are never going to have change,” Elliot said.
Kathleen and Wade are both graduates of OU. Elliot said the university has reached out to them, and the Wiants would like to come to OU and talk to students about hazing.
University spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood said Collin’s tragic death devastated the OU community, and their thoughts remain with the Wiant family as the investigation continues.
On Oct. 3, the university made the decision to suspend all 15 Interfraternity Council chapters after nine fraternities had reports of hazing against them. In the weeks following, two business fraternities, three sororities, the Marching 110 and the men’s club rugby team received cease and desists for reports of hazing.
Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones said Collin’s death led the university to look at Sigma Pi closely for an investigation. There couldn’t be investigations into other groups because the university didn’t have any reports or allegations.
“There was no reason at that moment to believe there was a larger systemic issue in any of our students,” Hall-Jones said.
She said if just a couple of allegations come to light, it can cause a snowball effect in reports made to the university. There is also speculation that people could hear about one organization’s allegations, know another organization is much worse and report it.
“We don't really know why we had a lot all at once,” Hall-Jones said.
Taylor Tackett, the director of the Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility, said until the university knows about a situation involving hazing, they can’t do anything about it.
“This was sort of a barrage all at once, but I think it was a really positive thing,” Tackett said. “I think it represents what our community will and won't stand for.”
Some of the student organizations had their suspension lifted while others still remain under investigation. The allegations ranged from being told to clean houses after parties to participating in “Hell Week,” which forced some pledges to stay in a basement for a week.
Every group that did not have allegations were back to full active status within two weeks, Sorority and Fraternity Life Director Ariel Tarosky said.
Tackett said the university is trying to move as quickly and responsibly as possible. There are 17 ongoing investigations managed by four full-time staffs.
The length of the investigations depend on the type of allegations and the number of members in the group. Tackett said they are about four weeks into the investigations, with six investigations completed and 11 investigations at various stages of the process.
Tackett said any organizations that will have charges against them will have a formal hearing in January or February 2020, which are usually completed in one or two days.
The lawsuit is currently expected to go to trial in the summer of 2020. Arraignments are still being scheduled for those who were indicted for charges related to Wiant’s death on Tuesday. Four men have jury trials scheduled for December and January.
Elliot said four of the nine men are also involved in the lawsuit filed by Kathleen and Wade Wiant in February.
Corbin Gustafson, 22; Joshua Androsac, 20; and Cullen McLaughlin, 20, were with Collin on the night he died. Elijah Wahib, 22, was the president of Sigma Pi at the time of Wiant’s death.
The lawsuit is also against the Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity, the Sigma Pi Fraternity, International, Inc., anonymous defendants and Adam Jones, who was a member of Sigma Pi but not indicted.
According to the lawsuit, Collin went to several bars on Court Street before being summoned to 45 Mill St. on the night of Nov. 11, 2018 around midnight. Before he left, he told someone that he knew he was going to get hazed.
At about 2 a.m. Collin and Gustafson then went to the Sigma Pi annex. Around 2:40 a.m., Gustafson called Wahib multiple times and told him Collin was having trouble breathing. At about 2:50 a.m., Gustafson called 911.
In the call, he told the dispatcher that Collin was unresponsive and that he would bring him outside. The dispatcher told him to leave Collin where he was due to the cold weather. Gustafson then called Wahib six times in the minutes following the 911 call.
Collin died in the Sigma Pi annex house shortly after the call was made. His body was found surrounded by drug paraphernalia, including nitrous oxide canisters. Elliot said the nitrous oxide was purchased by Androsac at Silver Serpent.
After finding out about his death, Wahib’s immediate reaction was to delete all fraternity-related messages and group chats to cover up what had been done, Elliot said.
Gustafson is being charged with reckless homicide. Androsac is being charged with permitting drug abuse, hazing, involuntary manslaughter, harmful intoxicants and trafficking of cocaine. McLaughlin will be charged with trafficking in LSD. Wahib will be charged with tampering with evidence, permitting drug abuse, hazing, assault, obstructing justice and failure to comply with underage alcohol laws.
First degree felonies can result in up to 11 years in jail and third-degree felonies can be nine months to five years in jail.