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Bowling Green, Stone Foltz's family settle hazing death lawsuit for $2.9 million

BGSU, Foltz family lawsuit settlement presser
Patrick Orsagos/AP
Shari Foltz, second left, speaks while her husband Cory Foltz, left, sit next to attorneys Rex Elliott, second right, and Sean Alto in a press conference where Elliott announced that the Foltz family will receive nearly $3 million from Bowling Green State University to settle its lawsuit Monday, Jan. 23 2023, in Bowling Green, Ohio. Foltz's son, Stone, died of alcohol poisoning in March 2021 after a fraternity initiation event where there was a tradition of new members finishing or attempting to finish a bottle of alcohol, according to a university investigation. (AP Photo/Patrick Orsagos)

The parents of a 20-year-old man who died during a 2021 hazing incident at Bowling Green State University reached a $2.9 million settlement with the university, and vow to use the funds to end hazing across the United States.

“The money means nothing to us, because it's not going to bring Stone back. But it does allow us to move forward, and help us through the foundation (to) continue the education piece of it and teach the students, the community, the parents, about hazing and we can continue our fight and saving lives,” Shari Foltz said at a press conference on Monday.

The Foltz family and university said in a joint statement issued Monday that they will be forever impacted by his death. "This resolution keeps the Foltz family and BGSU community from reliving the tragedy for years to come in the courtroom and allows us to focus on furthering our shared mission of eradicating hazing in Ohio and across the nation. Leading these efforts in our communities is the real work that honors Stone,” the statement said.

The settlement with the university is on top of more than $7 million in payouts made to the family by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and those who had a role in the hazing, according to court documents.

In their lawsuit, Foltz's parents accused the school of failing to stop hazing in fraternities and sororities despite being aware of it.

Stone Foltz, a Delaware native and a graduate of Buckeye Valley High School, died from alcohol poisoning in March 2021, after an initiation event held by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, where he was required to drink an entire bottle of whiskey.

Eight former fraternity members either pleaded guilty or were found guilty on various charges, including reckless homicide, hazing and giving alcohol to a minor.

Two of the eight, though, were acquitted last year of more serious charges including involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide. Their defense attorneys had argued Foltz was not forced or required to finish the entire bottle and made that decision on his own.

The incident also helped lead to the passage of new anti-hazing state legislation, which increases penalties for participating in hazing or knowing about it and failing to report it. That bill, dubbed Collin’s Law, is named for Dublin-native Collin Wiant, who died under similar circumstances in 2018 at Ohio University.

Stone’s father, Cory Foltz, said Bowling Green State University is a partner in ending hazing. “From day one, we've always wanted the same thing as Bowling Green, (which is) to eradicate hazing across the country,” he said. “So, I strongly believe that today moving forward, we can work with Bowling Green, and Bowling Green will be one of the first universities to take the big step towards eliminating hazing across this country.”

Universities across the state were required to create more stringent anti-hazing policies following the passage of Collin’s Law.

The family’s attorney, Rex Elliott, said the settlement is the largest ever made by a public university to a family following a hazing suit.

“I think it's important and historic. Because what we have here is a university that is stepping up. There is no chance that we are ever going to stop hazing in this country if universities don't take a more proactive stance to enforce anti-hazing rules on college campuses in this country,” Elliott said.

Elliot said there has been a hazing-related death on a college campus every year for “over 60 years.” “Until universities become more involved in putting a stop to this behavior, we're going to see more deaths and we don't want that to occur,” he said.

Elliott also called for the end of pledge programs in Greek organizations on college campuses across the country.

“The reality is that Greek organizations will not survive in this country if hazing does not come to an end. There is value to Greek organizations. There are good social lessons that can be taught, there is learning. And there's great charitable and philanthropic activities that occur through Greek organizations,” Elliott said. “But, hazing and pledge programs are a relic of the past. All the deaths and injuries that we're seeing on college campuses in this country are coming through the pledging process.”

Elliot said there are ways to allow Greek organizations to operate on college campuses, while banning pledge activities. He says it’s needed, so another family doesn’t suffer an unnecessary loss.

After Foltz's death, Bowling Green expelled Pi Kappa Alpha and said it would never again be recognized on campus. The university also developed a plan to address anti-hazing efforts, including hiring a prevention coordinator and making it easier for students to tell the school about hazing.

The iamstonefoltz FOUNDATION accepts donations to further efforts to end hazing.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.
The Associated Press