New details reveal chilling death of Penn State fraternity pledge

Timothy Piazza died after a night of drinking and pledge hazing at Beta Theta Pi fraternity on the Penn State University campus. (CBSN)

CENTRE COUNTY, Penn. — Eight Penn State University fraternity members are due in court Tuesday in connection with the death of a student pledge. Nineteen-year-old Timothy Piazza died in February after falling down the stairs.

A grand jury report said the fall came during a fraternity hazing ritual involving heavy drinking. He hurt his head and ruptured his spleen.

Prosecutors say fraternity members waited about 12 hours before calling an ambulance. The members are also accused of trying to cover up the incident.

Eighteen members of Beta Theta Pi face charges ranging from hazing to aggravated assault, reports CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan.

The fraternity’s national organization disbanded the chapter, saying it does not tolerate hazing or alcohol abuse in any form — a sentiment the university president echoed.

“How could a group of people who have committed themselves to each other let something like that happen?” said Penn State University President Eric Barron.

Barron describes the grand jury report on the incident surrounding the death of Piazza as sickening.

According to the report, Piazza arrived at the frat house on February 2. There, he and 13 other pledges took part in “the gauntlet” — a sort of alcohol obstacle course — where “the pledges consumed approximately four to five alcoholic beverages varying from beer, wine and liquor — all within a two-minute time span.”

An hour later, the report says Piazza fell down a flight of stairs. Surveillance video inside the frat house apparently shows him carried up by four Beta brothers.

His “body appears limp, his eyes closed and his demeanor unconscious.”

Piazza falls several more times throughout the night — hitting his head in some instances. While on the floor, frat brothers step over his body.

By 10 a.m. the next morning, two frat brothers found Piazza on the basement floor. They say he was cold to the touch and his skin appeared pale. No one called 911 until 42 minutes later.

“We have a friend who’s, uh, unconscious… he’s… hasn’t moved… probably going to need an ambulance,” the 911 caller said.

“OK, how old is he?” the operator asked.

“He is 19? Nineteen years old,” the caller responded.

The next day Piazza was dead.

His father called this a preventable and senseless tragedy. “Again, this did not have to happen. No parent should have to deal with this,” Jim Piazza said.

A grand jury determined Piazza “died as a direct result of the extremely reckless conduct of members of the Beta fraternity.”

The report also says the investigation shows “an active attempt to conceal and/or destroy evidence” by some frat members.

“The lack of humanity, the lack of caring, the lack of dignity of the young men who did so much harm here is unthinkable,” said attorney Tom Kline, who represents the Piazza family.

Since the release of the grand jury report the university has now launched its own investigation, which the university president says could very well lead to expulsions.

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