Eighteen Penn State students have been charged in the hazing death of a 19-year-old sophomore.
On February 2nd, Timothy Piazza, an engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, attended a fraternity pledge night where he became drunk and repeatedly fell.
According to police, fraternity members left him unconscious and obviously injured overnight, despite knowing he was hurt but did nothing to help him.
After a month-long grand jury investigation, eight of the students were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The other ten students were charged with hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors. The fraternity – Beta Theta Pi – was also charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The international chapter has already suspended the Penn State chapter. Prosecutors also accuse the fraternity of tampering with evidence in order to derail the investigation.
A good portion of the 70-page indictment handed down by the grand jury was based on surveillance camera footage captured at the fraternity house. Prosecutors also entered text messages as evidence.
The videotapes showed that the fraternity had set up a “gauntlet” of drinking stations, where each of the pledges had to drink what was given to them. At the first station, they were all made to drink from a bottle of vodka.
At the second they were required to chug down a beer very quickly, and at the third, they were forced to drink from a bag containing wine.
At approximately 10:30 p.m., the footage shows the victim, obviously very drunk, “staggering, while hunched over.” One fraternity member helped him to a couch and other members tried getting him up. He is then seen stumbling towards the basement stairs.
At midnight, a group text went out to fraternity members that read, “Also, Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”
More video footage shows that the fraternity members brought him back to the couch, where he remained unconscious. They put a book-filled backpack on his back so he would not roll over and possibly choke on his own vomit. They also tried splashing some kind of liquid on his face, unsuccessfully trying to revive him. His body remained limp, his chest bruised, and he remained unresponsive. Some members stayed with him all night. At one point he did wake up but passed out again.
Fraternity members finally called for an ambulance at 10:48 a.m., 12 hours after he fell down the stairs. He was barely alive when paramedics arrived and died the next day. Doctors said his most lethal injury was a brain bleed.
In their indictment, the grand jury also blasted Penn State for its role in allowing a culture that promotes the type of behavior that resulted in the victim’s death. They wrote that the school, “. . . nurtured an environment so permissive of excessive drinking and hazing that it emboldened its members to repeatedly act with reckless disregard to human life.”
Upon hearing of the indictments, personal injury attorney Neal Goldstein commented, “These types of behaviors have been allowed to go on for far too long, resulting in the tragic deaths of far too many young people. As more and more prosecutors take this action against this type of activity, I hope colleges and universities will get the message to stop condoning this behavior.”