Parents: End delays in PSU fraternity hazing suit
WILLIAMSPORT – The parents of a Penn State student who died from injuries suffered in a fall during a fraternity hazing event say proceedings in their civil suit should not be delayed any longer.
James and Evelyn Piazza have asked U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann to deny motions to dismiss or further delay the suit stemming from their son’s death.
Timothy Piazza, 19, died two days after he fell down the basement stairs inside the Beta Theta Pi house at University Park during a bid acceptance night party Feb. 2, 2017, in which pledges were forced to consume alcohol.
His injuries included traumatic brain swelling, a skull fracture and a lacerated spleen.
The Piazzas have sued 28 fraternity members claiming they negligently forced, coerced or otherwise caused their son, a sophomore, to consume life-threatening amounts of alcohol resulting in him becoming intoxicated and fall.
Their suit further contends Timothy Piazza, as documented on closed-circuit cameras, suffered more than 11 hours before medical help was sought.
Activities at the event violated fraternity rules that prohibit drinking games and hazing activities, the Piazzas say.
The defendants have moved to dismiss the suit or to stay proceedings until criminal charges arising from the incident are resolved.
The Piazzas want Brann to deny those motions, pointing out some of the criminal cases have been resolved. They claim justice requires trial testimony to be fresh and proximate to the event.
The judge Friday gave the defendants until June 28 to respond. The case still is in its infancy because of motions filed by the individual defendants.
One of the issues raised by the fraternity members is whether one minor can be held responsible for another regarding furnishing alcohol.
The Piazzas argue their son was not a casual guest but attended as requirement to become a member. They cite the following text from one of the defendants, Daniel Casey: “This is your pledge master from Beta. Be outside the kitchen doors behind the house at 9:07 p.m. Dress code is shirt, tie and jacket. See you then Tim. It would be wise not to be late.”
This is the Piazzas’ account of what happened once their son and 13 other pledges were in the house:
They read from a book, sang songs, lined up in the basement, collectively drank vodka until the bottle was empty, led outside, brought back inside and directed to participate in the “gauntlet” drinking stations where they consumed more vodka, beer and wine.
The pledges again were lined up against a basement wall and given another drink. It is estimated Piazza’s blood alcohol level at the time of his fall was between .28 and .36, or at least four times the legal level to drive.
The lawsuit outlines 14 total counts: six counts of negligence, six counts of battery, a civil conspiracy and infliction of emotional distress.
The battery charges were filed against specific fraternity brothers for their alleged actions against Piazza after he was unconscious, including pouring liquid on his face, hitting him in the abdomen and slapping his face.
Also a defendant is the security firm of St. Moritz, which specialized in enforcing InterFraternity Council rules for social events.
“Social checkers” from the company visited the Beta Theta Pi house during the bid acceptance night party just minutes before Piazza tumbled down the stairs.
The “sham inspection,” according to the lawsuit, allowed fraternity members to continue hazing Piazza and others.
The Piazzas in their 158-page court filing list reasons why the judge should reject each of the motions to dismiss or stay the proceedings.
As result of the incident, the Beta Theta Pi house was closed and the fraternity banned from campus.
Donald G. Abbey, a former board member of the non-profit AY Corp. that owns the fraternity house, in a separate suit had accused board members of failing to implement and enforce policies that could have prevented Piazza’s death.
That suit was voluntarily dismissed without explanation in March by Abbey, a former Penn State football player.