Ohio University hazing death brought to court

Across the nation, there has been increase scrutiny of college hazing and initiations involving excessive drinking and abuse. The parents of an 18-year-old student who died at an Ohio University fraternity filed a wrongful death action against a fraternity earlier this month claiming that it was liable for his death in a hazing incident.

The suit was filed against Sigma Pi Fraternity Epsilon's Athens' Chapter. His parents claim that the student died in Nov. after being forced or provided with illegal drugs containing nitrous oxide by fraternity members. These cannisters, also known as whippets, were found next to his body at a rooming house that was allegedly an unofficial chapter annex.

The plaintiffs cited a toxicology report finding that he died of asphyxiation from nitrous-oxide ingestion. A preliminary autopsy report did not confirm drug intoxication as the cause of death.

According to the suit, the victim and other fraternity pledges were locked inside the fraternity president's bedroom and were forced to drink a gallon of alcohol in one hour. The fraternity also provided or made the pledges take cocaine, marijuana, Adderall, Xanax and other alcohol. The combination of drugs and alcohol allegedly made the victim black out several times.

The victim and other pledges were also forced to play football inside the house without protective gear, while tackling and hitting each other. He also allegedly went on a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where he was pelted with eggs, hit with a belt and punched repeatedly by other fraternity members.

The victim, according to this cause of action, was overheard saying that he would be hazed while walking to the fraternity house on the night of his death. The plaintiffs also claim that the fraternity chapter called an emergency meeting within hours of their son's death. The purpose was to make sure all members told the same version of events.

The fraternity chapter and its international organization did not enforce its policies forbidding hazing even after sanctions imposed by universities, according to the suit. Other unnamed John Does were cited in the lawsuit representing other potential defendants liable for his death. Ohio University placed this fraternity in 2014 for hazing. The Athens Police Department is investigating.

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