May 5 (UPI) — Members of a fraternity at Penn State University face a long list of felony and misdemeanor charges in the death of a 19-year-old pledge in February, prosecutors announced Friday.
Eighteen members of the school’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity were charged in the death of Timothy Piazza. The fraternity itself also faces charges, officials said at a news conference Friday.
The charges include aggravated assault, hazing, providing alcohol to and consumption of alcohol by minors and tampering with evidence. Eight members also face a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
A sophomore engineering student, Piazza died after falling down stairs at the fraternity house at the State College, Pa., campus on Feb. 2. Police say he laid in the house for about 12 hours before anyone called for help.
“This is the result of a feeling of entitlement, flagrant disobedience of the law and disregard for moral values,” Piazza’s father, Jim, said Friday. “This did not have to happen.”
The fraternity, which was immediately shut down after Piazza’s death, faces nearly 150 criminal counts in the case — including 50 counts of hazing, almost 100 counts of alcohol-related crimes and a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Some of the members each face 200 felony and misdemeanor criminal charges.
Piazza’s death was ruled accidental. He suffered multiple traumatic injuries from the fall, the coroner said.
The lengthy indictment followed a 10-week grand jury investigation spurred by Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.
“The Penn State Greek community nurtured an environment so permissive of excessive drinking and hazing that it emboldened its members to repeatedly act with reckless disregard to human life,” the grand jury said.
“This has been a very intense investigation. I am not sure we have charged as many people at one time in one case,” Miller said at the news conference.
Piazza, a prospective member of the fraternity, fell down a set of stairs on what was the Beta Theta Pi house’s pledge night. Some frat members, believing he was merely drunk and needed to sleep it off, placed him on a couch, where he remained for the next 12 hours. The following morning, when it became clear Piazza needed emergency medical attention, the members called for help. He died the next day.
“We are devastated,” Jim Piazza added Friday. “He was an incredible young man and an excellent student. He was an amazing son, brother, boyfriend and friend. We are going to miss him terribly. He just wanted to make people laugh and be a good friend.”
Some legal experts question Miller’s chances of securing any substantial convictions in the case. Attorneys for some of the defendants have argued that Piazza received injuries that were difficult to detect, and that it was perfectly reasonable for the fraternity members to conclude that he was merely intoxicated.
No charges were filed against Tim Bream, 56, a Penn State assistant athletic director and Beta Theta Pi adviser who lived at the fraternity house.
Since Piazza’s death, Pennsylvania Gov. Eric Barron and the university have imposed stern limits on alcohol at any fraternity or sorority event.
“Our thoughts continue to lie with the Piazza family as the justice process moves forward,” Penn State’s Interfraternity Council said in a statement Friday. “The best way to shift culture is for students, alumni and the university to work together.”
Notice 11 FINAL Charges and Presentment (PDF)
Notice 11 FINAL Charges and Presentment (Text)