Revelations from hearing on teen’s death from alcohol poisoning at Penn State frat
Timothy Piazza, 19
June 12, 2017 – NJ Advance Media- BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Testimony from a detective and footage from surveillance video were the focus of a preliminary hearing held for 16 of the 18 Penn State fraternity brothers accused in the death of a 19-year-old pledge from New Jersey. Two waived their right to a preliminary hearing.
Much of hearing centered on the actions of fraternity members in the over 12 hours between when Timothy Piazza fell face-first down a set of basement stairs and when 9-1-1 was called. While many of the details were previously released in a lengthy grand jury report, this was the first time State College Police Det. David Scicchitano has spoken in an open courtroom about Piazza’s death and that video surveillance has been seen in public. Information from the courtroom by the Associated Press and PennLive, a sister site to NJ.com, was used in this report.
“He looked dead. He looked like a corpse,” said Scicchitano while describing Piazza’s appearance in the surveillance footage recorded after his second fall down a set of basement stairs. Piazza had fallen almost 10 hours earlier after a hazing ritual, and fell down the same set of stairs early the next morning after being left alone on a couch.
It took less than 10 minutes for the 14 Beta Theta Pi pledges to complete “the gauntlet,” a hazing ritual involving drinking large quantities of beer, wine and vodka at stations, according to Monday’s testimony. Fraternity members also carried wine bags for pledges to continue drinking after the ritual.
Of the 14 pledges taking part that night, all but two were under 21.
The fraternity was also a dry house, a condition of its reopening in 2010 after having been suspended by Penn State for alcohol violations, including underage drinking.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller announces results of Penn State fraternity death investigation as James and Evelyn Piazza look on.
Scicchitano said the footage on the night of Feb. 2 shows Piazza was clearly injured after his first serious fall. “He is unconscious. His eyes are closed. He is limp,” Scicchitano said. “He is dead weight.”
The video footage and testimony added more details to what happened after Piazza was placed on a couch, including revelations that fraternity members poured beer on him and threw shoes at him. At this point he is clearly incapacitated and there is a visible large bruise on his abdomen. One member puts a keg on the couch next to Piazza.
Much of the video shown Monday focused on the hours spent while Piazza was left alone in the great hall in the early-morning hours of Feb. 3.Penn State students and community members honor the life of student Timothy Piazza during a candlelight vigil hosted by the Interfraternity Council on the Old Main patio in State College, Pa. on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.
The surveillance video shows Piazza again struggling toward the basement stairs in the morning of Feb. 3, then a gap of two hours before fraternity members are seen carrying him back up the stairs. Scicchitano said Piazza had labored breathing and had “lost all color.” Scicchitano said some of the fraternity members thought he may have died, the Associated Press reported.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller used the video, along with Scicchitano’s testimony, to piece together what happened. She pointed out several times that fraternity brothers stood around Piazza with phones in their hands for an extended period of time before calling 9-1-1. Parks Miller previously said the decision to pursue charges came because those present at the fraternity house did not take personal responsibility that night.
The pathologist’s report stated Piazza’s death was from severe head trauma, as well as non-recoverable brain injuries, suffered in a fall while he was heavily intoxicated. Scicchitano said Piazza’s blood alcohol level was at a lethal level the first time he fell down the stairs. Toxicology reports indicate it could have been as high as .36; the legal limit to be considered drunk in Pennsylvania is .08. Scicchitano also testified that when he saw Piazza in the emergency room, he saw “visible injuries.” Pictures of some of those injuries were shown in court on Monday.
Speaking about what happened before 9-1-1 was called, Scicchitano said it was clear the fraternity brothers were concerned about Piazza’s condition. There were searches on their phones about head injuries, discussions about what to do, including cleaning up a basement bar area, and, he said, “A lot of worried looks on these faces.”
Beta Theta Pi was permanently shut down by Penn State after Piazza’s death, and it was suspended by the international fraternity. Penn State’s trustees also voted on sweeping changes to be made to its Greek system. Tom Kline, the Piazza’s family attorney, has previously said the family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Some of the 18 fraternity members are facing charges that include involuntary manslaughter, hazing and aggravated assault. Others also face charges of hazing, reckless endangerment and giving alcohol to minors, while four were charged with a single count of evidence tampering and one with a charge of reckless endangerment. A complete list of those charged has been published by PennLive.com.