- Eight fraternity members are charged with involuntary manslaughter, 10 more face other charges
- Timothy Piazza died after a hazing ritual on his first night of pledging Beta Theta Pi fraternity
“They killed him,” Jim Piazza said in an interview with CNN, referring to members of Beta Theta Pi who now face charges in the February 4 death of his son.
“They fed him lethal doses of alcohol and they killed him, and then they treated him like a rag doll, like road kill, they slapped him around, threw water on him, one kid punched him.”
His son died following his first night of pledging at Beta Theta Pi — a fraternity that was supposed to be alcohol-free at Penn State, a result of a suspension eight years ago. The university has now permanently banned the fraternity from operating on campus.
Those charged are accused of putting Timothy Piazza and other pledges through something called “the gauntlet,” forcing the pledges to binge drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. Security cameras at the house show Piazza fell down a 15-foot flight of stairs shortly afterward — and then fell several more times into a railing, on the floor, and down the stairs again, according to the grand jury’s presentment, issued after its investigation into Piazza’s death.
But even after the falls, instead of calling 911, some of the fraternity members stepped over the frat’s newest member, turned to Google to research effects of acute intoxication and what to do for a head injury, and fought over what to do, according to the presentment. One person who wanted to take him to a hospital was criticized by other members of the fraternity as being “over-dramatic,” according to the grand jury findings.
“Our hearts go out to the family. This is heart-wrenching for the family, and our entire community,” Penn State said in a statement issued Monday.
The university did not respond to CNN’s detailed questions related to the allegations, but issued a statement Monday saying that even before Piazza’s death, it had taken measures to tackle binge drinking, which it called a national problem.
‘This was callous and cold and inhumane’
It was more than 12 hours after Piazza’s initial fall down the stairs before help was called, police said, and even then, no one told medical staff that Piazza had a head injury.
“This is torture,” Evelyn Piazza told CNN of her son’s death. “This was callous and cold and inhumane.”
The parents plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Penn State, the fraternity and its members, family attorney Tom Kline told CNN.
“In my mind, he was murdered,” Jim Piazza said. “They let him suffer for 12 hours, they let him die a very slow death. It’s not any way anyone should ever be treated.”
“And when they knew that death was imminent the next morning, they waited 42 minutes to call for help while they told people to clean up, cover up the evidence, get rid of it. This wasn’t boys being boys, this was criminal activity,” Jim Piazza added.
The criminal presentment against some of the fraternity members shows electronic messages urging the pledges not to talk, and to clean up the alcohol in the basement.
No one went with Tim Piazza to the hospital, his family said, and no one notified them, either.
CNN has reached out to the attorneys for the men charged for comment on the allegations.
One of them told CNN the charges are “improper on many levels.”
“The government assumes that these young men, many of whom were intoxicated themselves, should have been able to differentiate symptoms of extreme intoxication from symptoms of a life threatening head injury. That is an impossible burden to place on them,” the attorney, Steve Trialonas, said May 8.
Another defense attorney, William J. Brennan, released a statement Monday saying, “While my client is presumed innocent with regards to the criminal charges, I can, as I have done publicly already, extend the deepest sympathy … to the Piazza family for their tragic and unspeakable loss.
“Legal cases aside, I can assure the Piazza family that my client and his family keeps Tim Piazza and his family in their prayers constantly.”
Piazza’s girlfriend, Caitlyn Tempalsky, told CNN she simply can’t fathom the number of people who chose not to help.
“When I think of not just the 18 people that were charged with things, but all the other people that were there — girls, too — I don’t understand how any of them could stand there and watch someone clearly injured and unconscious, seizing, and not do anything about it, hunched over in pain,” she said. “And to read that people are snapchatting?” referencing a part of the charging papers that says people were sending snapchats of Tim Piazza on the floor.
“Whether you have a legal obligation or not, you have a moral obligation to help another human being,” Tempalsky said.
Penn State President Eric Barron stopped all pledging after Piazza’s death and put restrictions on alcohol consumption at fraternity social events.
But the Piazzas say those restrictions were actually at their request, not Barron’s.
“First of all, the changes that they put through, we told them that they had to,” Jim Piazza said, adding that Barron gave no indication that he was planning to implement those changes on his own.
The university told CNN in a statement that the school has been aggressive in tackling fraternity misconduct, with 170 violations in the last two years alone. But Penn State also said it is hamstrung by the fact that fraternities are off-campus.
“I keep hearing from President Barron, ‘I can’t do anything to these fraternities — they’re on private property,'” Jim Piazza said. “The universities need to take a tougher stand, and don’t give me ‘it’s private property.’ You hold the ultimate pen, which is the pen of expulsion.”