• Beta Theta Pi pledge Timothy Piazza died February 4 after a fraternity event.
• 18 fraternity brothers have been charged in connection with his death; eight brothers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
• Piazza’s parents called the treatment of their son ‘torture.’
The parents of Timothy Piazza, the 19-year-old Penn State sophomore who died after a hazing ritual in February, described their son’s final hours as torture.
“What happened throughout the night was just careless disregard for human life,” Piazza’s father, Jim, told Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today show. “They basically treated our son as roadkill and a rag doll,” he continued.
“Nobody should consume that much alcohol,” Piazza’s mother, Evelyn, said. “That’s torture.”
Piazza’s parents revealed that no one from Penn State’s administration or Beta Theta Pi, the fraternity that Piazza was pledging, came to his funeral. A representative for Penn State told the family in advance that “he was unfortunately likely unable to attend the funeral,” though they did participate in a campus vigil, according to NBC.
Piazza’s final hours began around on 9 p.m. on February 2, when he showed up to Beta Theta Pi for a pledge event called “The Gauntlet,” an event at which pledges drank at series of alcohol stations and consumed four to five drinks in as little two minutes. Fourteen hours later, he was rushed to the hospital. He died the next day.
Eighteen members of Beta Theta Pi, as well as the fraternity corporation, had charges brought against them on Friday in connection with his death. Eight of the 18, along with the corporation, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. The other charges, totaling more than 1,000, include aggravated assault, tampering with evidence, hazing, and providing alcohol to minors.
The events leading up to Piazza’s death have come into clearer focus since the charges were filed. A surveillance camera in Beta Theta Pi’s house captured most of the events of February 2, and a grand-jury presentment has provided a minute-by-minute account of “The Gauntlet” and the hours before Piazza’s death.
9:06 p.m. — Piazza comes into view on the camera. Pledges begin going through the gauntlet and drinking at different stations.
9:21 p.m. — Piazza is handed a bottle of vodka to drink from, then shotguns a beer. Other stations are not visible from the camera angles.
10:43 p.m. — A “visibly intoxicated” Piazza is seen “staggering with great difficulty walking.”
10:45 p.m. — Piazza staggers drunkenly toward basement steps.
10:46 p.m. — On camera, a fraternity brother is visible “pointing agitatedly” toward the basement steps.
The fall was not captured on camera, so a detective outlined it in the presentment.
In an interview with police, a fraternity brother said he saw Piazza laying “face-down at the bottom of the steps.” In a text message that night at 11:53 p.m., the brother wrote: “Also Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”
The surveillance footage continued:
10:47 p.m. — Piazza is carried upstairs by four brothers. He appears unconscious, and there is a visible bruise on the left side of his abdomen.
10:49 p.m. — Two brothers dump liquid on his face.
11:14 p.m. — Kordel Davis, a newly initiated brother, is seen pointing animatedly at Piazza. He testified before the grand jury that he saw Piazza “making weird movements on the couch,” and Davis screamed at the other brothers to get help.
11:15 p.m. — Another brother shoves Davis into a wall. In his testimony, Davis said he was told to leave and that the others had it under control.
11:25 p.m. — The fraternity pledge master slaps Piazza in his face three times.
1:00 a.m. — Brothers who were in the room saw Piazza vomit and twitch on the couch. They “backpack” Piazza, putting textbooks in a backpack in an attempt to ensure he wouldn’t roll onto his back and choke on his vomit.
1:48 a.m. — Piazza rolls off the couch and onto the floor. Beta brothers forcefully put him back on it.
1:50 a.m. — A brother who appears to be frustrated strikes Piazza hard in the abdomen.
2:38 a.m. — Piazza again rolls to the floor.
3:22 a.m. — Piazza attempts to regain his feet but falls backward and hits his head on the hardwood floor.
3:54 am — Piazza tries to stand again but falls facedown on the floor.
4:59 a.m. — Piazza staggers toward the lobby, falls headfirst into an iron railing, and lands on a stone floor. Seconds later, he tries to go to the front door but falls headfirst into it.
5:15 a.m. — A Beta brother steps over to him before getting water and going back upstairs.
6:57 a.m. — A fellow pledge records video of Piazza on Snapchat.
7:18 a.m. — Piazza staggers toward the basement steps. He is not seen again on camera until several brothers and a pledge carry him upstairs again.
A fraternity brother testified that he found Piazza in the basement at 10 a.m. breathing heavily, with blood on his face. He felt cold to the touch, with pale skin and eyes half-opened.
For the next 42 minutes, surveillance shows Piazza lying unconscious while brothers shook him, covered him with a blanket, wiped his face, and attempted to dress him.
At 10:48 a.m., a fraternity brother called 911. Piazza was transported to the hospital and died on February 4. He had a ruptured spleen and severe injuries to his head. A forensic pathologist estimated his blood alcohol content was between 0.28 and 0.36 when he fell.
Piazza’s death has rocked Penn State’s Greek life and magnified the dangers of drinking culture and hazing on campus.
The university has banned Beta Theta Pi from campus for at least five years, and potentially forever, pending results of the investigation. Other Greek organisations are banned from recruiting new members until 2018, and other limits have been placed on the number of social events they can hold.
Penn State President Eric Barron released a statement calling the details in the presentment “heart-wrenching and incomprehensible.” He added that “the University community continues to mourn his tragic death.”
Beta Theta Pi International disbanded its Penn State chapter in February after Piazza’s death, and said that “early findings of [the] investigation indicated that the behaviour of several undergraduate members was in direct contradiction of the International Fraternity’s expectations and risk management policies, as well as the International Fraternity’s reputation and commitment to character development,” in a statement to Business Insider.
The editorial board of The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student paper, also voiced its concern and anger.
“Incomprehensible that a 19-year-old with his whole life ahead of him could be alive one day, and gone the next,” it wrote. “Sickening that young adults could be so careless and have such little respect for human life.”
The board said it didn’t believe enough had been done to ensure a similar tragedy doesn’t occur in the future.
Penn State’s Interfraternity Council “failed to tackle the underlying cause of Piazza’s death — hazing,” it wrote.
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