Penn State

Penn State takes action against fraternity where student suffered fatal injuries

Beta Theta Pi is no longer a Penn State fraternity.

On Friday, the university revoked recognition for the fraternity amid investigations of the death of Timothy Piazza, 19, a Beta Theta Pi pledge who died on Feb. 4 after a fall at the Burrowes Street house.

The fraternity will not be recognized for at least five years, according to Penn State.

Piazza’s death was ruled accidental, but police are investigating the events surrounding his death. The university’s Office of Student Conduct is conducting its own inquiry. Both Penn State and the fraternity’s national organization had already suspended the chapter, and the university had shuttered Greek social activities across campus.

“Based on information gained through its inquiry thus far, the university has decided to withdraw immediate recognition of Beta Theta Pi fraternity,” the university said.

According to the affidavit of probable cause State College police submitted for a search warrant, Piazza was found still alive at 10:49 a.m. Feb. 3, after a party the night before.

“The fraternity members found Piazza lying on the basement floor. He was then brought upstairs,” the affidavit stated. “Officers detected a strong odor of beverage alcohol about his person.”

His pulse was slow, his breathing labored and he was unresponsive. He died at Penn State Hershey Medical Center the next day.

Police have subpoenaed Piazza’s medical records from Hershey to see what his blood alcohol level was at the time of death.

“We cannot suitably convey the heartbreak we feel for the family and friends who are grieving the loss of Tim Piazza,” said university Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims. “The information available to us about the actions that led to Tim’s death is deeply disturbing, and no sanction or restriction the university can levy is equal to the gravity of his death or the circumstances which we believe led to it.”

Beta Theta Pi’s revocation of recognition means it is “stripped of any and all privileges or acknowledgments that come with university recognition,” and it is not longer a part of the Penn State Greek community. The university is working with the group’s alumni board to “sort through questions about housing for the men remaining in the chapter house.”

But Beta Theta Pi is not the only group facing additional repercussions. The university announced further restrictions for other organizations.

In addition to continuing the social activity ban through the spring semester, Penn State is implementing “immediate cessation of all new member programs now underway in IFC chapters, until the university is assured that effective and credible plans are in place to end hazing,” as well as unannounced compliance checks.

Long-term changes were also detailed, including: no hard liquor (beer and wine only), Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board certified bartenders at all social functions, monitoring of underage and excessive drinking and observation of attendance limits at events.

“These changes must substantially reduce any likelihood of underage and excessive drinking, hazing, sexual assault and overly large and disruptive gatherings within these organizations,” the university stated.

While fraternity problems have cropped up periodically over the years, the most recent problems began in 2015 when Kappa Delta Rho was closed down after a secret Facebook page detailing illegal activity and hazing was revealed. University President Eric Barron said then that he would call together a task force to address Greek issues.

Penn State officials have said the university is working with the Interfraternity Council and fraternity leaderships to find solutions, but has taken a harder stance since Piazza’s death.

“The values and purposes aspired to by these organizations, which justify the university’s recognition, are too often not the outcomes we see in them,” said Sims. “We are determined, in concert with our student leaders and others, to end any excesses related to the misuse of alcohol, hazing and other activities that are inconsistent with the university’s values and purposes, and should not be commonly found in the experience these groups offer to Penn State’s students.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce