On February 2, Timothy Piazza, a New Jersey man attending a party at the Alpha Upsilon chapter house of Beta Theta Pi at Penn State experienced a series of injuries that ultimately led to his death two days later. An investigation of the circumstances of his death turned up evidence of heavy drinking, hazing and a cover up.
The fraternity and 18 of its members now face charges numbering in the hundreds – involuntary manslaughter among others.
The fraternity claimed to be a dry fraternity, though records showed over $1,000 was spent to purchase alcohol between Jan. 25 and Feb. 2, intended for use at the recruitment event where Piazza was injured.
Phone chats through social media, as well as testimony from attendees of the event, confirmed that pledges to the frat were made to drink excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, including a “gauntlet” involving rapid consumption of beer, wine and liquor. When Piazza first began showing signs that he was overly intoxicated, he was helped to a couch. He awoke a short time later and stumbled to a staircase, where he fell. The fall left him with traumatic brain injuries and a fracture at the base of his skull. Despite the severity of his injuries, members of the frat refused to call 911 and even actively discouraged others from doing so.
Throughout the night, Piazza experienced convulsions and several more traumatic brain injuries as he attempted to move throughout the frat house. At no point during his erratic and uncoordinated attempts to right himself or to communicate with the others did anyone think to call an ambulance.
It wasn’t until the next morning that 911 was called. After Piazza was taken to the hospital, the frat members attempted to delete communications regarding the incident in hopes of protecting themselves from liability. The frat has been banned permanently from Penn State.
Hazing Laws in New Jersey
The New Jersey Pledge’s Bill of Rights prohibits the following forms of hazing:
- Forced or required ingestion of alcohol, drugs, food, or any undesirable substance.
- Participation in sexual rituals or assaults.
- Mentally abusive or demeaning behavior.
- Acts that could result in physical, mental, or emotional deprivation or harm.
- Physical abuse, e.g. whipping, paddling, beating, tattooing, branding, and exposure to the elements.
Violations of the Pledge’s Bill of Rights can lead to criminal charges, requiring those who haze to pay restitution to victims. However, this restitution rarely will fully compensate the victims for their injuries or the family members for a hazing victim’s death. Victims can seek further damages against those who haze through personal injury or wrongful death claims.