Wrongful death alleged in Fiocco case

The family of John Fiocco Jr. filed a lawsuit in the state Superior Court in Gloucester County Monday alleging the College and others failed to secure hazardous areas of Fiocco’s Wolfe Hall dormitory.

The wrongful death lawsuit claims the College did not “provide a safe and secure residence and learning environment.” According to the lawsuit, this was done in part by “(f)ailing to adequately secure and restrict access to unsafe and hazardous areas of Wolfe Hall,” including the compactor room.

Fiocco went missing from his Wolfe Hall dorm room at about 3 a.m. on Saturday, March 25, 2006. He was reported missing by friends the next day.

State, Ewing and campus police then began investigating the disappearance. Though investigators never determined how Fiocco died, they discovered a body in a Tullytown, Pa., landfill on April 25, 2006 that was determined to be Fiocco’s.

The lawsuit alleges that the College failed to secure the door to the compactor room and the hinged lid of the trash container therein.

In addition to negligence, the lawsuit claims Campus Police did not respond to the situation promptly after being notified that a student was missing.

The lawsuit is directed not only at the College itself, but also “several unknown employees” and “John Does” who are “fictitious individuals or persons (whose identities are presently unknown to plaintiffs).” These people, the lawsuit alleges, could have been responsible for the management, supervision, service and operation of the College’s facilities, including trash.

As of 5 p.m. on Monday, Matt Golden, executive director of Public Affairs and Communications for the College, said the school had not been served a lawsuit.

Golden said the College was aware that a lawsuit had been filed, but said no administrators had yet seen a copy of the document and could not take any legal steps as of press time.

“John’s death brought extraordinary sadness to our campus, but we cannot begin to understand the grief experienced by his family and loved ones,” Golden said in a statement at 1:40 p.m. Monday. “Not knowing how John died has made his passing even more painful. We miss John’s presence on our campus and will continue to support law enforcement’s investigation of this terrible tragedy.”

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages for the alleged wrongful death, but does not specify how much.

Christine P. O’Hearn, a lawyer for the Fiocco family, said in an Associated Press (AP) article the death could have been avoided.

“Based upon our investigation, we believe his death was a senseless tragedy which could have and should have been prevented,” she said.

The lawsuit alleges the College and the unnamed defendants’ conduct was “willful, intentional, outrageous and malicious and was with reckless disregard and indifference to the health, safety and welfare of (Fiocco).”

According to the AP article, Glenn A. Zeitz, another lawyer for the Fiocco family, said an electronic eye on the trash compactor would activate the device when the trash reached a certain level in the removable garbage bin. Zeitz said in the article that a human body falling in could have triggered the compactor.

In the summer of 2006, Zeitz filed an intent to sue against the College, but had not followed up on the legal notice. At that time, the family was seeking over $5 million in damages, according to the AP, as reported by The Signal on Sept. 6, 2006.