TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — During the year since a fraternity pledge died from alcohol poisoning, Bowling Green State University has hired a hazing prevention coordinator and made it easier for students to tell the school about hazing, resulting in more reports.
Seven fraternity members and another man have been charged, with two pleading guilty. And the parents of 20-year-old Stone Foltz, who died after the alleged hazing ritual, settled part of their wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and several of its members for $2.4 million.
Foltz's death has spurred a wide number of changes at Bowling Green and beyond, including a new state law that created tougher criminal penalties for hazing — a proposal first made after an Ohio University student died in 2018 after ingesting nitrous oxide at a fraternity house.
Bowling Green expelled the fraternity Foltz was joining and said it would never again be recognized on campus.
University President Rodney Rogers said that Foltz's life, in part, will be defined “by the positives actions that come from this tragedy. That is on us.”
“We as a university must have a commitment to eradicate hazing, not just here at Bowling Green State University, but at other universities, K through 12, throughout our culture,” Rogers said at a campus vigil last week.
But Sean Alto, an attorney for the Foltz family, said that while Bowling Green has adopted a strong anti-hazing policy, it hasn't followed through with strong enough enforcement in two recent cases.
In January, the university suspended two fraternities — one already was under suspension — over alcohol and student conduct violations, including one violation not linked to hazing in which an underage student was found passed out at a party and taken to a hospital.
“We think zero tolerance means zero tolerance,” he said.
The university's anti-hazing policy calls for zero tolerance and expulsion when there is death, serious physical harm or substantial risk of serious physical harm. In other cases, suspensions can be warranted, Rogers said.
“Specifically, these multi-year suspensions also ensure that any student involved in the responsible organization will never have an opportunity to participate in these student organizations again,” he said.
Bowling Green spent four months developing a plan to address anti-hazing efforts following the death of Foltz, a business major from Delaware, Ohio, who was joining the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
He was found unconscious by a roommate after an event where there was a tradition of new members finishing or attempting to finish a bottle of alcohol, according to a university investigation. Foltz died three days later on March 7, 2021.
The investigation said the fraternity members who organized the event were well aware of how dangerous it could be, going as far as setting up trash cans for vomiting and telling pledges to let professors know they likely would not be in class the next day.
Foltz's parents said in their wrongful death lawsuit that their son was dropped off after the pledge event at his apartment by members of the fraternity, including a “big brother” who was supposed to spend the night with Foltz and make sure he was OK.
“Instead, Stone Foltz was taken from the car into his apartment and left alone on the couch to die,” the complaint said.
Documents filed in a Delaware County court show that the family settled their lawsuit last November against Pi Kappa Alpha, which paid out $1 million, and four others who were at the house where the alleged hazing took place.
Roughly 20 other members of the fraternity remain in the lawsuit.
Two of the eight men charged in the investigation into Foltz's death pleaded guilty last fall. The six others are scheduled to go on trial beginning in May on charges that range from involuntary manslaughter to hazing.