Penn State drawn into lawsuit in student’s 2017 hazing death
WILLIAMSPORT — Penn State and three current or former administrators have been drawn into a federal lawsuit over the 2017 death of a student at a fraternity bid acceptance party.
St. Moritz Security Systems Inc. of Pittsburgh Tuesday filed a third-party complaint in U.S. Middle District Court accusing the university, the administrators and others of negligence.
The security firm is one of the defendants in a wrongful death suit filed by Jim and Evelyn Piazza, whose son, 19-year-old Timothy, died Feb. 4, 2017 after becoming intoxicated at a bid acceptance party at the Beta Theta Pi house.
Timothy Piazza and other pledges attending the party were forced to quickly consume alcohol during an event known as the “gauntlet,” law enforcement authorities have said. Piazza became intoxicated, and fell multiple times, suffering injuries that led to his death two days later. Authorities have accused fraternity members of waiting 12 hours after Piazza fell to call for help.
St. Moriz, a private security firm, was hired by Penn State Interfraternity Council to conduct “social checks” to help enforce rules governing social events at fraternity houses. Piazza’s parents, James and Evelyn, in the lawsuit said the firm failed to ensure that fraternities adhered to policies related to hazing and underage drinking.
St. Moritz says if it is found liable in the Piazza case and is required to pay damages, Penn State and other defendants should also be required to contribute toward them.
It claims that Penn State and the administrators, by not acting to prevent excessive alcohol consumption, underage drinking and hazing, condoned that culture.
The university had a duty to prevent fraternities from serving alcohol to those under 21 and to protect students from excessive alcohol use, the firm contends.
Administrators named are Damon Sims, vice president of student affairs; Roy Baker, former director of student and fraternity life, and Danny Shaha, assistant vice president of student affairs.
Others that St. Moritz wants to be forced to pay a share of any award are:
— The Penn State Interfraternity Council, Henry T. Bream, former head football trainer who was the live-in adviser, Beta Theta Pi, its Alpha Upsilon chapter and the corporation that owns the fraternity house.
— Six fraternity members in 2017 who are not defendants in the Piazzas’ suit also are named. Authorities have said they saw Piazza in an intoxicated state and failed to address his injuries.
The Piazzas have sued 28 other fraternity members accusing them of negligence, breaching their duty to care, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery and conspiracy.
Also pending is a related federal court case in which Alpha Upsilon Chapter of the Fraternity of Beta Theta Pi Inc. accuses Penn State of manipulating Piazza’s death to obtain the property and to insulate it from liability.
Penn State rejects the allegation as “reckless and irresponsible.
A clause in a 1928 deed states the university has the right to reacquire the campus property if it no longer is used as a fraternity house.
It has been vacant since Penn State after Piazza’s death revoked recognition and the national fraternity announced it had closed the Beta Theta Pi chapter.