The parents of a Penn State University student who died after a fatal fall during an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual likened their son’s death to “torture” and said fraternity members “treated our son as road kill and a rag doll.”
Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, died less than two days after he fell and hit his head several times during a pledge acceptance ceremony at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in February.
“This wasn’t boys being boys,” Timothy's father, Jim Piazza, said Monday on the “Today” show. “This was men who intended to force feed lethal amounts of alcohol into other young men and what happened throughout the night was just careless disregard for human life.”
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
Piazza had a blood-alcohol level of 0.40, five times the legal limit, after being plied with drinks along with other pledges at the event, according to police.
"Nobody should consume that much alcohol,'' his mother Evelyn said. "That's torture."
A grand jury said security camera footage captured events inside the house that night, including pledges being ordered to guzzle alcohol quickly after the ceremony. Piazza appeared to become inebriated and fell face-first down a flight of basement steps before midnight.
The footage shows that Piazza fell repeatedly as the evening progressed. Fraternity brothers made halfhearted 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 grand jury report said.
Timothy’s father said the family has chosen not to see the video because it would be “incredibly painful” to watch, and they don’t want the last memories of their son to be “him being abused for 12 hours, dying a slow and painful death.”
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 and suffered other injuries that included internal bleeding from a shattered spleen.
Mike Piazza, Timothy’s older brother, said he received a call from Piazza’s roommate asking if he knew the teen’s whereabouts. Mike told “Today” co-host Matt Lauer that he called a local hospital “just to see” when he learned that his brother was “severely injured" and being airlifted to Hershey Medical Center.
"They said he had a non-recoverable brain injury," Jim Piazza said, recalling the moment he learned his son wasn't going to survive. "So we knew at that point he wasn't gonna make it. We were hoping that there would be something different, an outcome. They let us go in and see him. You know, we talked to him a little bit. We held his hand."
Piazza's father said he asked a doctor whether if Timothy had been brought to the hospital earlier the outcome would be different. The doctor said, "yeah."
"They killed him," he said of the fraternity members.
Eighteen members of the fraternity have been charged in connection to Timothy's death. The charges range from reckless endangerment to manslaughter. Asked if the parents see all 18 students as "equally culpable" in their son's death, Jim Piazza said "it's up to the jury, but in my heart, they are all culpable."
The university on March 30 issued a permanent ban on Beta Theta Pi, which was once regarded as a model fraternity. The school found what it called a "persistent pattern" of excessive drinking, drug use and hazing.
Jim Piazza said no one from the fraternity and no official from Penn State attended his son's wake or funeral. He said he brought a copy of Timothy's missal book to Penn State University President Eric Barron.
"I said 'here, since no one had the time to come to the services, I thought you might want to see this,'" he said, noting Barron said "nothing."