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Eighteen fraternity members at Penn State charged in hazing death

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 5/05/2017 David Boroff

Video provided by Associated Press

Eighteen fraternity members at Penn State University were charged overnight in the death of a 19-year-old pledge from New Jersey, who authorities say had toxic levels of alcohol in his body and was badly injured in a series of falls.

A grand jury investigation, aided by security camera footage from the Beta Theta Pi chapter house, found that Timothy Piazza's friends failed to get help for the teen before his death in February.

"This didn't have to happen," Timothy's father Jim Piazza said. "This is the result of a feeling of entitlement, flagrant disobedience of the law, and disregard of moral values, that was then exacerbated by egregious acts of self-preservation. Again, this did not have to happen. No parent should have to deal with this."

Eight of the fraternity members are facing the more serious charge of involuntary manslaughter. Other charges include aggravated and simple assault, evidence tampering, alcohol-related violations and hazing.

"This is a very sad day for Centre County — it's been sad ever since we lost a child for reasons that are totally preventable," District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said. "A child who just wanted to come to college here, who put his faith in Penn State."

Fourteen pledges, including Timothy Piazza, were pressured to run a "gauntlet" of drinking stations that required them to chug vodka, shotgun beers and drink wine, according to the grand jury.

Piazza fell down a long set of steps that night, and fell several other times, injuring his head, Miller said. The next morning he fell down the same steps a second time, and was unconscious when help was finally requested.

Jim and Evelyn Piazza stand by as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller (left) announces the results of an investigation into the death of their son on Friday. - Patrick Carns/AP: Jim and Evelyn Piazza with Timothy. © Patrick Carns/AP Jim and Evelyn Piazza with Timothy. The sophomore engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, later passed away at Hershey Medical Center.

"He wanted nothing more than to make people laugh and be a good friend," Jim Piazza said. "Many of the people he touched in his life, in his high school days and in his college days, that visited with us in the last three months, have told us that he may have been the nicest person they have ever met and that he was just an outstanding person."

Miller said doctors estimated Piazza had a blood-alcohol content of nearly .40 the night of the pledge ceremony.

Penn State permanently banned Beta Theta Pi on March 30 after finding a "persistent pattern" of excessive drinking, drug use and hazing. University President Eric Barron said in a statement that the details found by the grand jury are "heart-wrenching and incomprehensible."

"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 said. "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."

Jim and Evelyn Piazza stand by as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, left, announces the results of an investigation into the death of their son Timothy Piazza, a Penn State University fraternity pledge, during a press conference Friday, May 5, 2017, in Bellefonte, Pa. Timothy Piazza had toxic levels of alcohol in his body and was badly injured in a series of falls, authorities said Friday in announcing criminal charges against members of the organization and the frat itself. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP) - Abby Drey/AP: Jim and Evelyn Piazza stand by as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, left, announces the results of an investigation into the death of their son Timothy. © Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP Jim and Evelyn Piazza stand by as Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, left, announces the results of an investigation into the death of their son Timothy. Barron said that "no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak" felt by Piazza's family and friends.

Video footage turned over to investigators was critical to the investigation, providing evidence of what occurred and contradicting stories some witnesses had told.

Just one month before Piazza's death, fraternity brother Brendan Young texted fellow member Daniel Casey, "I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester then both of us are f-----," according to the 65-page grand jury report obtained by the Daily News.

Young and Casey are two of the eight members facing involuntary manslaughter charges.

The cameras recorded Piazza drinking vodka and beer at around 9:20pm, and an hour later needing help to walk from an area near the basement stairs to a couch. He's later shown trying unsuccessfully to open the front door, then "severely staggering drunkenly toward the basement steps" at about 10:45 p.m., according to the grand jury report.

After he apparently fell face-first at the bottom of the steps, four brothers carried his limp body back upstairs, where some poured liquid on him, and another slapped him in the face, the jury said.

Timothy Piazza with his parents Evelyn Piazza and James Piazza during Hunterdon Central Regional High School football's "Senior Night" at the high school's stadium in Flemington, N.J. - Joe Hermitt/AP: <p>Evelyn Piazza and James Piazza at the announcement about their son Timothy.</p> © Joe Hermitt/AP

Evelyn Piazza and James Piazza at the announcement about their son Timothy.

Fraternity members put a backpack containing textbooks on him so he would not suffocate on his own vomit, according to the jury.

A fraternity brother who insisted Piazza needed medical help was shoved into a wall, the report said. When the same brother insisted again that Piazza required help, he was told others were biology and kinesiology majors so his opinion wasn't as valuable as theirs.

Piazza tried to get up in the middle of the night, but fell backward and hit his head on the wood floor. He fell onto a stone floor at 5am and was last caught on video after 7am, according to the report.

He was found in the basement at approximately 10am.

"Timothy was lying on his back with his arms clenched tight at his sides and his hands in the air," the grand jurors wrote. "His chest was bare, his breathing heavy and he had blood on his face."

Fraternity brothers shook him, tried to prop him up, covered him with a blanket, wiped his face and tried to dress him for 40 minutes before one of them called 911, according to the grand jury.

During Wednesday's press conference, Jim Piazza said his family is committed to "making meaningful and impactful changes to Greek life" in honour of his son.

He said they are committed "to doing everything that we can so that no other parents will have to go through the pain and grief we are currently experiencing."

With News Wire Services

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