'Horror' Of Student's Hazing Death At Penn State Sparks Change After the death of a student, Penn State's Board of Trustees approved a series of new initiatives designed to change how the school's fraternities and sororities are regulated.
NPR logo

'Horror' Of Student's Hazing Death At Penn State Sparks Change

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/531081366/531173512" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Horror' Of Student's Hazing Death At Penn State Sparks Change

'Horror' Of Student's Hazing Death At Penn State Sparks Change

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/531081366/531173512" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today Penn State University is expected to announce big changes for its fraternities and sororities, this after 19-year-old fraternity pledge Tim Piazza died of injuries after an alcohol-fueled party back in February. That party was captured on surveillance video. Eighteen people face criminal charges related to the death. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: At Penn State, Beta Theta Pi was supposed to be a dry fraternity. It was not. Alcohol was at the center of sophomore Tim Piazza's death, says Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.

STACY PARKS MILLER: Right after the gauntlet - which is what they call it where they bring the pledges and make them go from station to station and drink copious amounts of alcohol really quickly - he fell down these steps, which are really long.

BRADY: Parks Miller says the video shows Piazza stumbling around for hours and falling down those same stairs a second time. When medical help was finally called the next day, it was too late.

Parents Evelyn and Jim Piazza stood next to the prosecutor at a press conference last month, but they can't imagine watching the video prosecutors relied on to bring charges.

EVELYN PIAZZA: It's bad enough that when I close my eyes, I see him in the hospital. And that whole night - that's burned into my brain. I don't know that I want to see his head hitting a floor, a wall, a railing.

BRADY: She would also see that fraternity leaders were aware of Tim Piazza's injuries. But they did little to help him. The prosecutor says some people on the video were pointing to Piazza's head. Court documents show someone put a backpack on him to reduce the risk he'd roll over and choke on his own vomit. The prosecutor says one person wanted to call 911, but a fraternity brother stopped him.

Penn State banned the local chapter of Beta Theta Pi and will issue report cards on other fraternities and sororities, so students and parents can learn if there's been trouble in the past. Tim Piazza's brother Mike, also a Penn State student, wants the school to do more.

MIKE PIAZZA: Our main goal and most important focus is making sure that some kind of positive change is effected to ensure that this type of thing never happens again. It's not supposed to happen. It can't happen anymore.

BRADY: Penn State President Eric Barron says change is coming and details will be announced this afternoon. Beyond Penn State, the Piazzas want laws changed so hazing-related crimes get stiffer penalties. The family may end up filing a lawsuit against the university and others. But right now, they're focused on the criminal case. Attorney Pete Sala is representing his godson Joe Sala, who was a member of Beta Theta Pi.

PETE SALA: These charges - involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault - they require an element of intent - OK? - and not only that, that you intended for the result, but that the result actually occurred from your actions.

BRADY: As the Piazza family waits for the criminal trial, they're adjusting to life without their son. Evelyn Piazza wears a heart-shaped pendant around her neck that has Tim's thumbprint on it.

E. PIAZZA: It's like holding his hand when I rub my finger across the thumbprint. It's him. I'm wearing him.

BRADY: The family has started a foundation to offer scholarships in Tim's name and to further one of his passions. If he'd lived long enough to earn an engineering degree, he planned to spend his career making prosthetics for children and veterans.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE AMERICAN DOLLAR'S "TIME")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.