Eighteen Penn State students and their fraternity face criminal charges in the death of a student at a pledge party.
Philly.com reports that eight of the students face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the death of Tim Piazza, 19, who suffered fatal injuries in February when he fell down a set of stairs during a Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge party.
Authorities say the Centre County, Pa., case is one of the largest hazing prosecutions in the nation’s history.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announced the charges at a news conference. Flanked by Piazza’s parents and a blown-up portrait of the sophomore engineering major, Parks Miller accused fraternity members of putting Piazza through a dangerous booze-fueled hazing ritual and failing to call for help once he had injured himself.
The charges are the result of a months-long grand jury investigation. The panel’s presentment described a ritual known as “the gauntlet” in which pledges are required to stop at various alcohol stations, where they guzzled vodka, shotgunned beers, drank from wine bags and played multiple rounds of beer pong.
One fraternity member told the grand jury that pledges drank four to five alcoholic beverages within two minutes.
Those charged with misdemeanor counts of involuntary manslaughter included Brendan Young, president of the Beta Theta Pi chapter at Penn State, as well as fellow fraternity members Daniel Casey, Jonah Neuman, Nick Kubera, Michael Bonatucci, Gary Dibileo, Luke Visser and Joe Sala.
Each also faces felony charges of aggravated assault. prison terms if they are convicted.
Ten other student members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity face lesser charges including hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.
Piazza, from Lebanon, N.J., was intoxicated at the Feb. 2 pledge party when he fell multiple times and was knocked unconscious, the district attorney says.
Members of the fraternity moved him to a couch but did not call for emergency help until the next morning, about 12 hours later. Piazza died the next day. His injuries included a non-recoverable head injury, ruptured spleen and collapsed lung.
Defense attorneys have said that fraternity members did not know Piazza was in danger and thought he was just drunk and would sleep it off.
But Parks Miller says that video taken from the fraternity house’s extensive security system disproves those claims.
After conducting its own investigation, Penn State permanently banned Beta Theta Pi earlier this spring, citing evidence of forced drinking, hazing and other illegal activity. The university also instituted new rules for the rest of its 83 fraternities and sororities.