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Newsletter > July 2020 > "More Guilty Pleas in Ohio University Hazing Death"
More Guilty Pleas in Ohio University Hazing Death
Jim Schirmer, Manley Burke LPA, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the wake of the death of Collin Wiant on November 12, 2018, Elijah R. Wahib, 22, of Westlake, OH, has pleaded guilty to two counts of felony obstruction of justice, felony permitting drug use, and two counts of misdemeanor hazing.
On June 23, 2020, Athens County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Lang sentenced Wahib to thirty-one (31) days in jail (with one day credit) for the misdemeanors, and to mandatory participation in a drug and alcohol diversion program for the felonies. The proceedings were conducted over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wahib was the President of the now-defunct Sigma Pi fraternity at Ohio University the night of Wiant’s death. Prosecutors said that Wahib allowed members to haze pledges and permitted drug use at the fraternity’s unofficial, off-campus annex house in Athens. According to prosecutors, marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, and Ecstasy were found at the residence.
A coroner ruled that Wiant died of asphyxiation after collapsing at the house due to nitrous oxide ingestion after inhaling a canister of the gas, also known as a “whippit.”
The sentencing taking place only two days after Father’s Day, Wade Wiant, Collin’s father, addressed the court and Wahib during the proceedings.
Wahib “was elected to lead men and failed,” said Wade Wiant.
Not only did Wahib allow drug use to take place at the annex house, but after Wiant’s death in 2018, authorities said Wahib instructed his fraternity brothers to not provide any information to Ohio University investigators. Obstruction charges often come when fraternity members attempt to interfere with an investigation. But, as this case makes apparent, attempting to cover up rarely works and the wrongdoing carries its own set of additional criminal charges.
If there is anything surprising in the fallout of Wiant’s death it is the light sentences applied thus far. Wahib is the fifth former Sigma Pi member to plead guilty to charges, but the first to receive jail time for his involvement. Of note, all those who have pleaded guilty agreed to cooperate with authorities in the remaining cases. The four remaining defendants face the most serious charges, two of whom face involuntary manslaughter and a third faces reckless homicide.
Fraternal Law reported in February 2020 on the first three students charged in this case.Dominic Figliola was sentenced to one year of non-reporting probation for a hazing charge. Cullen McLaughlin was ordered to complete a drug program after being convicted on two fifth-degree felonies for possession of LSD. Zachary Herskovitz pleaded guilty to one felony count of permitting drug abuse and was convicted by the judge of hazing. He was ordered to serve a year of non-reporting probation and pay a $250 fine on the hazing conviction while his sentence on the felony was delayed pending completion of a rehabilitation program.
Saxon Angell-Perez pleaded guilty in May 2020 to felony permitting drug abuse, felony cocaine possession, and misdemeanor hazing charges, and sentenced to non-reporting probation and a drug and alcohol diversion program.
A civil suit against Sigma Pi and several other defendants remains pending.
Sigma Pi is an international fraternity devoted to promoting and supporting the lifelong development of its brothers. It is committed to its core values of developing character and leadership, and advancing heightened moral awareness. These were not on display the night of Collin Wiant’s death. As a result, the fraternity’s members are being criminally charged, its organization has been exposed to civil litigation, its reputation has been harmed, and its efforts to end hazing have suffered a serious setback.
Sheridan Hendrix, Former Ohio U. fraternity president pleads guilty to charges in death of pledge Collin Wiant, Columbus Dispatch(June 23, 2020), https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200623/former-ohio-u-fraternity-president-pleads-guilty-to-charges-in-death-of-pledge-collin-wiant.
Tim Burke, The First Convictions In The Death Of Collin Wiant Are In—More To Come, 164 Fraternal Law(Feb. 2020).
Lucas Sullivan, Fourth Sigma Pi member pleads guilty in connection with Collin Wiant death, Columbus Dispatch(May 29, 2020), https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200529/fourth-sigma-pi-member-pleads-guilty-in-connection-with-collin-wiant-death.