NEW YORK — A fraternity pledge who was ordered to guzzle alcohol during a hazing ritual and twice fell down a flight of stairs before his death was treated like “roadkill,” his father said Monday, days after criminal charges were filed against 18 of his son’s Penn State fraternity brothers.
Jim Piazza, the father of 19-year-old engineering student Timothy Piazza, said the Beta Theta Pi fraternity members were to blame for his son’s February death.
“They planned this night out,” Piazza said. “They had all the intent to feed these young men lethal doses of alcohol — to bring them to alcohol poisoning levels. This was premeditated. They killed our son.”
The family of the college sophomore from Lebanon, New Jersey, told The Associated Press that they are considering a lawsuit but are focused now on the criminal case against their son’s fraternity brothers.
Eight face the most serious charge of aggravated assault, a felony that carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison. Timothy Piazza consumed what prosecutors said was a life-threatening amount of alcohol — his blood-alcohol content reached nearly .40 percent, doctors estimated — during a hazing ritual on Feb. 2 in State College, Pennsylvania, and he died two days later.
Piazza’s parents said they would likely attend the court proceedings. A preliminary hearing that had been scheduled for this week has been pushed back to June.
Piazza’s mother, Evelyn, said her grief has worsened the more she’s learned about what happened to her son.
“My mind used to go to dark places before. Now I’m imagining more horrors so it’s really hard to fall asleep,” she said.
Jim Piazza said the fraternity brothers “tortured” their son.
“They held him captive and tortured him. They treated him like roadkill,” he said. “Knowing that your son suffered the way he did over such a long period of time, and died a very slow and very painful death, frankly, it’s haunting.”
A grand jury said security camera footage captured events inside the house that night, including pledges being ordered to guzzle alcohol after the ceremony. Piazza appeared to become inebriated and fell face-first down a flight of basement steps.
Fraternity brothers made half-hearted and even counterproductive efforts to help him, and when one member strongly advocated for summoning help, he was shoved into a wall and told to leave, the report said.
Piazza apparently fell down the steps again early the next morning but was not discovered until about 10 a.m. Someone called 911 some 40 minutes later. Piazza later died as a result of severe head injuries.
The Piazzas said no one representing the university or the fraternity attended their son’s wake or funeral services. Jim Piazza called their absence “shameful.” He also noted that none of the students involved has been expelled.
“I am glad they have taken action so far on some things, but they have a long way to go,” he said of the school.
The university had no immediate response.
The Piazzas hope to push Penn State and universities across the nation to adopt changes — and improve enforcement of existing policies — to prevent future deaths. Among them, they suggested a ban on alcohol at fraternity events and a strict ban on hazing.
“This can’t happen to anyone else,” Jim Piazza said. “Tim Piazza is our son, but he represents so much more than that now. He represents everybody’s son and daughter that is thinking about going to college, thinking about participating in Greek life.”
Neither parent would say whether the fraternity members involved should have to serve jail time.
“That’s for a jury to decide,” Jim Piazza said. He added, “What is a life worth? Our son lost the rest of his life. He lost the ability to graduate, to get married, to have kids, to be his brother’s best man.”
Evelyn Piazza said: “He gets to sit in a mausoleum. Everybody else gets to continue living their lives. The world goes on for everybody else.”
Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.