BELLEFONTE, Pa. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Penn State University fraternity pledge died after stumbling and falling several times with toxic levels of alcohol in his body and suffered for hours with severe injuries while his friends failed to summon help, authorities said Friday in announcing charges against the frat and 18 of its members.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said a grand jury investigation, greatly aided by security camera footage from the Beta Theta Pi chapter house, found that friends of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza failed to get him help before his death in February.
The grand jury said their actions in some cases may have worsened his injuries.
“This is a very sad day for Centre County,” Parks Miller said in releasing a 65-page grand jury report. “It’s been sad ever since we lost a child for reasons that are totally preventable. A child who just wanted to come to college here, who put his faith in Penn State.”
Eight of the fraternity brothers were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Other charges include aggravated and simple assault, evidence tampering, alcohol-related violations and hazing.
The frat itself faces charges, including 50 counts of hazing, 48 counts of furnishing alcohol to minors and one count of involuntary manslaughter.
Speaking at the news conference, Piazza’s father, Jim Piazza, said his son’s death was the “result of a feeling of entitlement and flagrant disregard” of the law. He called the loss “a senseless and very preventable tragedy.”
The grand jury said the fraternity was heavily stocked with booze for the Feb. 2 ceremony at which Piazza, a sophomore, and 13 others accepted pledge bids.
The pledges were pressured to run a “gauntlet” of drinking stations that required them to chug vodka, shotgun beers and drink wine.
The fraternity manual claims the house to be “dry,” that “no alcohol shall be present at any recruitment activity” and “no chapter shall engage in hazing activities,” CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported.
Video footage turned over to investigators was critical to the investigation, providing evidence of what occurred and contradicting stories some witnesses had told, Miller said.
The cameras recorded Piazza drinking vodka and beer at around 9:20 p.m. and an hour later needing help to walk from an area near the basement stairs to a couch, staggering and hunched over.
He’s later shown trying unsuccessfully to open the front door, then “severely staggering drunkenly toward the basement steps” at about 10:45 p.m., the grand jury report said.
He was subsequently found at the bottom of the steps after apparently falling face-first. Four brothers carried his limp body back upstairs, where some poured liquid on him, and another slapped him in the face, the jury said. Fraternity members put a backpack containing textbooks on him so he would not suffocate on his own vomit, the grand jury wrote.
When a brother insisted Piazza needed medical help, he was confronted and shoved into a wall, the report said. When the same brother insisted again that Piazza required help, he was told others were biology and kinesiology majors so his opinion wasn’t as valuable as theirs, the grand jury said.
Piazza tried to get up around 3:20 a.m., but fell backward and hit his head on the wood floor, the report said. He fell onto a stone floor at 5 a.m. and was last caught on video after 7 a.m. He was discovered in the basement at about 10 a.m.
“Timothy was lying on his back with his arms clenched tight at his sides and his hands in the air,” jurors wrote. “His chest was bare, his breathing heavy and he had blood on his face.”
During the next 40 minutes, fraternity brothers shook him, tried to prop him up, covered him with a blanket, wiped his face and tried to dress him before one of them finally called 911, the jury said.
“These brothers gathered around Timothy, where some of them described that he looked dead and they waited over 40 minutes before they called for help while some of them Googled things like ‘what to do with a head injury,'” Parks Miller said.
Piazza, from Lebanon, New Jersey, died Feb. 4 at Hershey Medical Center.
Miller said doctors estimate Piazza had a blood-alcohol content of nearly .40 the night of the pledge ceremony, a dangerously high level.
Penn State permanently banned Beta Theta Pi on March 30, accusing it of a “persistent pattern” of excessive drinking, drug use and hazing.
In a statement Friday, university President Eric Barron said “the details alleged in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible.”
“The University community continues to mourn his tragic death, but no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy’s family and friends are experiencing,” he said.
He called the alleged details in the grand jury report “sickening and difficult to understand.”
“It is numbing how an atmosphere that endangers the well-being and safety of another person could occur within an organization that prided itself on commitment to each other and to its community,” he said.
Piazza was a graduate of Hunterdon Central Regional High School, an AP student who played football, ran track and was a peer mentor. He was studying engineering at Penn State.
The eight defendants facing more serious charges were scheduled to appear before a judge later Friday to be arraigned and have bail set. That will occur for the other defendants next week, Miller said.
Five of them face only a single count each of evidence tampering.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)