EWING — The parents of a College of New Jersey freshman who died mysteriously in 2006 can proceed with a wrongful death suit against the school, a judge ruled yesterday, denying the school’s motion to dismiss the claim.

Susan and John Fiocco Sr.’s claim that TCNJ’s lax security measures allowed a stranger to enter Wolfe Hall dormitory and murder their son will go before jurors in a February trial, Superior Court Judge Pedro Jimenez decided.

The school is not protected from the civil suit under New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act and its Charitable Immunity Act, Jimenez ruled. Those laws shield public and charitable institutions from civil liability unless a case can be made that the institution was grossly negligent or that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the incident.
The Fioccos have made a case for both, the judge found.

Allowing TCNJ students and others open access to the dorm 16 hours a day and failing to ensure that exterior doors leading into the dorm and its trash compactor room were closed and locked could be construed as grossly negligent by a jury, Jimenez ruled. Likewise, jurors could conclude that the conduct led to a dangerous situation, he said.

“We are pleased with court’s decision,” said Christine O’Hearn, attorney for the Fioccos. “We look forward to presenting all the evidence in court before a jury. While this tragedy will never be over for the family of John Fiocco Jr., the family looks forward to a fair resolution of this case.”

Stacy Schuster, a spokeswoman for The College of New Jersey, said, “The campus community was deeply saddened by the loss of John Fiocco, and we cannot begin to understand the grief experienced by his family and loved ones. This tragic loss is further compounded by the fact that we may never learn the circumstances of John’s death. We have to trust that the State Police have been diligent in investigating all leads and determining those that have merit.”

The body of the 19-year-old Fiocco was found in a landfill in Bucks County, Pa., in April 2006, a month after he vanished from the Ewing campus. The trash dump was searched after investigators found traces of Fiocco’s blood in a giant trash bin at the bottom of a chute that allows students to dispose of trash from each of Wolfe’s floors.
He had last been seen alive at 3 a.m. on March 25, 2006, when he was sleeping in a friend’s room in the dorm after a night of drinking.

It has long been speculated by authorities that he somehow wound up in the trash bin and was killed by the trash compacting machine. But in a court hearing last month, O’Hearn alleged that Fiocco was killed by a TCNJ graduate who entered the dorm uninvited that night. She said the former student, who was experiencing mental problems at the time of Fiocco’s death, confided in at least two people that he had killed Fiocco. The student, who was not named in court, has not been charged in Fiocco’s death.