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18 Penn State Fraternity Members Charged in Death

May 8, 2017
 
 

Eighteen students at Penn State University were charged Friday for their roles in the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore who fell repeatedly after drinking excessive amounts of liquor and beer at a Beta Theta Pi pledge night in February.

The 18 students are all members of the fraternity. Eight of the students and the organization itself were charged with involuntary manslaughter -- a felony. The remaining men were charged with a variety of lesser violations, including hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, evidence tampering and aggravated and simple assault, according to The New York Times.

Eric Barron, president of Penn State, permanently banned Beta Theta Pi from the campus and tightened alcohol regulations for Greek organizations. At the end of March, he announced the university would no longer allow daylong parties, and it would limit the number of parties with alcohol that each sorority and fraternity can host -- 10 per semester, down from the current 45. At those parties, only beer and wine are allowed to be served. Liquor and kegs are banned.

After a grand jury in Centre County District released its finding from the investigation into Piazza’s death Friday, Barron released a statement.

“The details alleged in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible,” Barrow wrote. “The university community continues to mourn his tragic death, but no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy’s family and friends are experiencing.”

“The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand,” he added. “It is numbing how an atmosphere that endangers the well-being and safety of another person could occur within an organization that prided itself on commitment to each other and to its community.”

The party that led to Piazza’s death started with an initiation ritual where each pledge lined up to complete various drinking tasks -- drink from a bottle of vodka, shotgun a beer and chug from a wine bag.

Video surveillance in the fraternity house helped piece together what happened to Piazza that night, which the grand jury described in detail. Piazza was visibly drunk and staggering by 11 p.m. Soon after, he fell down basement stairs.

In a group text message, one of the fraternity members there said, “Also, Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”

The hours that followed included several more hard falls, usually on his head, and often against a hard surface, like an iron railing or a stone floor, while Piazza went in and out of consciousness. Occasionally, some of the brothers tried to help. They filled a backpack with textbooks and put it on Piazza’s back to prevent him from rolling over and choking on his own vomit. They splashed water on him and slapped him in the face to try jolt him awake. But no one called 911 -- not until after 10 a.m. the next morning. He died the following day.

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