US university fraternity brothers facing 850 charges in death of pledging student

Prosecutors claim they left Timothy Piazza unattended for 12 hours after he fell head first down stairs

US university fraternity brothers facing 850 charges in death of pledging student

Jim and Evelyn Piazza, beside a portrait of their son, stand as a prosecutor answers questions about the grand jury trial of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity in the death of Timothy Piazza [Joe Hermitt /PennLive.com via AP]

Eighteen male students, all member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State University, are facing more than 850 charges after a 19-year-old man attempting to join died during a pledging ceremony.

Prosecutors have received the go-ahead to take the case to trial after a grand jury, police interviews and the fraternity house’s video surveillance system revealed the details of the final hours of Timothy Piazza’s life.

The 19-year-old sophomore student passed away in February after falling nearly five metres down a flight of stairs, with his would-be fraternity brothers waiting more than 12 hours to alert the authorities.

The prosecution also alleges the brothers attempted to cover up their involvement in his death by deleting messages in which terse exchanges about what to do flew back and forth.

Piazza succumbed to respiratory failure due to the severe head trauma he suffered when he fell, head first, down the stairs leading to the basement of the frat house on February 2nd.

Taking part in a pledging event known as ‘the gauntlet’, Piazza consumed four to five alcoholic drinks in two minutes at a series of drinking stations. At the time he fell, expert testimony claimed his blood-alcohol level was somewhere between .28 and .36 percent. In Ireland, those with a .05 fail a drink driving spot check by Gardaí.

As a result of his traumatic injuries, including a featured skull and lacerated spleen, 80% of his blood supply pooled in his stomach.

The Beta Theta Pi frat house where Timothy Piazza took part in 'the gauntlet' that resulted in his injuries [Twitter]

Discovered at the bottom of the stairs by four members of Beta Theta Pi, Piazza was hauled back up and left on a couch, pouring liquid on his face and slapping him three times in an attempt to revive him. At another point, two scrapping brothers tackling each other landed on top of him, and his brothers placed a bag filled with books on Piazza to prevent him rolling over and suffocating on his own vomit.

When another pledging student tried to compel the others to seek medical help, the brothers slammed him into a wall, claiming they were biology students and knew better.

During the night, Piazza tried to get up off the couch, falling backwards onto a wooden floor. Hours later, he again fell, hitting his head off a stone floor. Fifteen minutes after this, as he lay unconscious, CCTV footage shows a frat brother coming downstairs, stepping over Piazza, stopping to examine him, before continuing to the kitchen for a glass of water and returning to bed.

Other men in the house at the time took videos of Piazza as he groaned on the ground, posting them to Snapchat.

At 10am the following morning, other members in the house discovered a shirtless Piazza breathing heavily with blood on his face. “Timothy was lying on his back and his arms clenched tight at his sides and his hands in the air,” jurors wrote in the Bellefonte Courthouse in Pennsylvania after preliminary hearings.

During the following 42 minutes, the fraternity brothers shook Piazza to wake him, tried propping him up, covered him with a blanket, and washed his face clean.

An investigation into one of their mobile phones showed he has searched for the phrases “falling asleep after head injury,” “cold extremities in drunk person,” and “binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands.”

Only after all of these did the brothers finally contact emergency services. While waiting for the police to arrive, at the behest of another brother, several of them tried to dress Piazza in a shirt “because they claimed Timothy might look better if he was dressed before medical treatment was rendered.” The men were unable to put a shirt on him, however, due to the stiffness of his limbs.

Text messages sent between the fraternity brothers revealed they instructed pledges to clean the basement and get rid of any evidence of alcohol from the night before. Another text saw one order another to “make sure the pledges keep quiet about last night and this situation.”

The judge in the case has set a preliminary hearing for May 17th.

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