No parent should have to go through this, Jim Piazza says
On Feb. 2, 2017, 19-year-old Timothy Piazza walked into the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State, wearing a suit and tie. He left the next day, flown to Hershey Medical Center, where he died on Feb. 4, 2017 of injuries including a collapsed lung, lacerated spleen and a fractured skull.
Piazza — a sophomore from Lebanon, New Jersey — ignited a national conversation about hazing on college campuses. The engineering major had 18 alcoholic drinks in 82 minutes and a 15-foot, “hair first” fall down the basement stairs.
A fraternity brother called 911 at about 11 a.m. Feb. 3, 2017 — nearly 12 hours after Piazza’s fall.
After a State College police investigation and a grand jury report, 28 of his former fraternity brothers were charged — 17 of which have pleaded guilty. Six others entered a program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders that could leave them without a criminal record.
The attorney general’s office — which accepted the case after former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller was replaced by Bernie Cantorna — has instead focused its case on former fraternity president Brendan Young, pledge master Daniel Casey and house manager Braxton Becker.
Young, Casey and Becker are the final three who face criminal charges.
Though the criminal case was pared down, several lawsuits were filed related to the fraternity house itself.
Donald Abbey, a Penn State and Beta Theta Pi alumnus, filed his lawsuit a month after Piazza’s death. He loaned Alpha Upsilon — Beta Theta Pi’s national chapter — $10 million for repairs, reconstruction, improvements and operating the property at 220 N. Burrowes Road.
According to the lawsuit, Alpha Upsilon was required to repay Abbey if the building ceased to be used for housing. Penn State permanently banned the fraternity in March 2017.
And not only does Abbey want his money back, Penn State wants to buy back the property.
The university filed its lawsuit in November, which claimed a 1928 deed gave them the right to purchase the property if the building ceased to be used a fraternity house. The two sides met in September to discuss a purchase price, but were unable to reach an agreement.
Both of those lawsuit are still ongoing, but Alpha Upsilon and the Piazza family reached an undisclosed monetary agreement in September.
The agreement specifically allowed the Piazzas to move forward with potential lawsuits against others, and that action was taken on Friday when the family filed a wrongful death suit. The federal lawsuit names 28 former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers, along with the security firm that was supposed to ensure safety at social functions.
The Piazzas also reached an undisclosed monetary agreement with Penn State, attorney Tom Kline announced Friday.
New Pennsylvania law
The Timothy J. Piazza anti-hazing bill — introduced by state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township — was signed into law in October. The law elevated hazing that results in death or serious injury to a felony. It was previously a misdemeanor.
The law also requires secondary schools and higher education institutions to publish biannual reports on hazing violations. Penn State’s inaugural report found 31 hazing violations between 2013 and 2018.
Penn Sate announced in January it would pledge up to $5 million toward the establishment of a national, multidisciplinary research center to study Greek life.
The Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform is set to help universities develop and refine Greek initiatives with “far greater knowledge and research,” according to Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs.