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18 Fraternity Members Charged in Death of Pledge at Penn State
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Penn State Beta Theta Pi

Summary: Members of a fraternity at Penn State have been charged, eight of which for involuntary manslaughter, after a pledge died from injuries obtained during a hazing event that went untreated.

After a night of heavy drinking, a 19-year-old Penn State student pledging a fraternity died a few days later. Eight members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity have since been charged with involuntary manslaughter of Timothy J. Piazza. A total of 18 members were charged for their involvement in Piazza’s death.


Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey suffered an injury during the pledging events that he died from two days later. The local district attorney’s office reports the official cause of death as traumatic brain injury from several falls. One of those falls was down a set of basement stairs, according to the 65-page statement by Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller. A county grand jury investigation led to the charges.

Piazza’s blood alcohol content was determined to be between .26 and .36 percent at one point during the night by a forensic pathologist. The statement claims that he would be rendered “stuporous” and “life-threatening.”

The grand jury found the fraternity responsible for cultivating “such a permissive atmosphere regarding excessive alcohol consumption that Timothy Piazza’s death was not simply an unfortunate accident, but was the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct that demonstrated a reckless disregard for human life, or a reckless indifference to the possible consequences of such conduct.” Penn State President Eric Barron called the incident “sickening and difficult to understand.”

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The frat was having “bid acceptance night,” where pledges were formally invited to join the fraternity. The pledges then run “the gauntlet.” This involves running from one drink station to the net to get drunk quickly. The statement explains, “The purpose of the gauntlet is to get the pledges drunk in a very short amount of time.” They estimate that each pledge consumed four to five drinks of wine, beer, and hard alcohol within two minutes. There is a security camera video in the frat house that helped them come to that conclusion.

Miller said, “He was injured and injuries were visible on his stomach. There were people that viewed injuries to his head. They let him lie on a couch. They hovered over him for a number of hours. And as the night progressed it appeared from video we have from the whole incident that his injuries worsened. Throughout the night, Timothy got up and fell more times. In the morning…this young man fell again down those stairs and he laid at the bottom of those stairs for a number of hours. And when they brought him up this last time, he was in dire…need of some help.”

The fraternity members appeared frightened, searching on Google for how to treat head injuries. Miller added, “They literally delayed getting him help. And when they finally did call for help they did not tell anyone that he had fallen. When he arrived at the hospital it was too late.”

The fraternity attempted to cover up the events of the night, removing any evidence of alcohol in the house. Fraternity president Brendan Young is one of the eight charged with involuntary manslaughter. The other charges against the 18 members include hazing, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, and alcohol-related offenses. Young said in a conversation with another member, “They could get us for giving him alcohol that contributed to his death. Also the guys taking care of didn’t call an ambulance right away, so they could get in trouble for negligence. I just don’t know what I’m liable for as president.” The fraternity presented itself as a dry house to the university. Their pledge manual states that no alcohol can be consumed at the house, especially by pledges and minors. The manual warns that drinking by pledges can result in expulsion from the frat and that hazing is prohibited.

This incident is another stain on Penn State’s reputation. The university is still recovery after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Do you think charging the fraternity members continues a trend where college students, whether part of a sorority, fraternity, band, etc., try to cover up tragedies to avoid persecution? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

To learn more about hazing events gone wrong, read these articles:




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