The parents of a Bowling Green State University student who died in a hazing incident last year have filed a lawsuit against the school, saying his death “could have been prevented.”
Shari and Cory Foltz spoke with NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin on TODAY Thursday about taking legal action against the university after their son, Stone Foltz, 20, died in March 2021 from alcohol poisoning at an off-campus fraternity initiation event at the Ohio school.
In a new lawsuit filed Wednesday, Stone’s parents allege the school “turned a blind eye to hazing ... while encouraging students like Stone to join its fraternities and sororities.”
“Despite being completely aware of the hazing activities that have taken place at Bowling Green for decades, the University enthusiastically endorses Greek life to parents and students,” the Foltzes said in a statement after filing the lawsuit. “To be clear, any perceived benefit students get from joining a Greek organization is completely and totally outweighed by the risk of injury or death by antiquated and deadly hazing rituals.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the school knew about the troubled history of hazing at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, informally known as Pike, “but did nothing about it.”
“This all could have been prevented, and unfortunately, because of their lack of action, we lost our son,” Shari Foltz said on TODAY.
The school released a statement to NBC News in response to the lawsuit.
“Stone Foltz’s death was a tragedy, and what his family has endured is unimaginable. However, this lawsuit is meritless and undermines our continued efforts to eradicate hazing. We are resolved in our legal position, and as a state-supported university, we will defend our community vigorously against this action. This will not deter our goal to continue to foster a community of care that serves our students and their families.”
NBC News reached out to the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity for comment but did not receive a response.
Stone Foltz was forced to drink an entire liter of hard liquor in 18 minutes as part of a hazing ritual organized by Pike, according to the lawsuit.
“It was a continuous pressure to finish the bottle as fast as they could,” Cory Foltz said.
“It’s hazing,” Shari added. “That’s what they do.”
Following Foltz’s death, the Pike fraternity was expelled from campus and eight of its members were criminally indicted.
Five former members were sentenced to jail or probation last week for their role in his death. Jarrett Prizel, 19, Daylen Dunson, 22, and Ben Boyers, 21, all pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and hazing charges. Dunson and Boyers also pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, and Dunson admitted to tampering with evidence.
Prizel was sentenced to 28 days in jail and two years’ probation, Dunson was sentenced to 21 days in jail and three years’ probation, and another former member, Niall Sweeney, 21, received a 14-day jail sentence and two years’ probation. Boyers and another former member, Aaron Lehane, 21, were sentenced to 28 days of house arrest and two years’ probation.
Last month, two other former Pike members, Jacob Krinn and Troy Henricksen, were convicted of misdemeanor charges, including hazing and violating underage drinking laws, but were acquitted of the more serious charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a new law in July 2021 aimed at ending hazing by expanding the definition of hazing and increasing the penalty for certain violations to a felony from a misdemeanor. Cory and Shari Foltz were present at the signing.
“Until the university presidents and the individuals who have power step up and take action, we’re going to continue to see young men and women either get humiliated, injured, or even die,” Cory said on TODAY.
The Foltzes are hoping to create meaningful change in their son’s memory.
“We demand increased education for students, transparency for parents, zero-tolerance policies for Greek organizations and immediate action from University leaders who have complete control over what happens on their campuses,” they said in their statement. “More than anything, we want to prevent another family from living our nightmare.”