Last February, a 19-year old pledge at Pennsylvania State University died after a night of partying at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Eighteen members of the fraternity were later charged in connection with sophomore Tim Piazza's death. However, the more serious charges were dismissed this past Friday after a lengthy preliminary hearing.
According to Courthouse News Service, Piazza passed away in February of 2017 after a night of heavy drinking at the fraternity house. He and other pledges were asked to drink a whole bottle of vodka and participate in a “'speed drinking' gauntlet.” This occurred after a “ceremony to mark their decision to pledge the organization.” While intoxicated, Piazza fell down the stairs into the basement and was carried back up “in an unconscious state.” After he was brought back upstairs, fraternity members did little to help him and no one called paramedics. Later on, Tim got back up and fell several more times and the next morning was found in the basement again. Members of the fraternity carried Tim back upstairs a second time and 40 minutes later phoned authorities. Courthouse News Service stated that “[a]uthorities said Piazza had ingested a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffered severe head and abdominal injuries.”
The District Attorney argued that Piazza was pressured into drinking excessively and according to the Philadelphia Inquirer “that the men shared culpability in Piazza's death.” However, the defense attorneys for the fraternity members “argued that their clients' roles were minimal or their actions did not amount to criminal behavior” and that “the students had little reason to anticipate tragic results from a night that also included an alcohol-fueled social mixer with a sorority group.”
District Justice Allen Sinclair sided with the defense. He dismissed involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault against eight of the fraternity members. However, those members will still have to go to trial on lesser charges such as hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors. Six other fraternity members face similar hazing and alcohol-related charges. Four of the fraternity members saw their charges completely dismissed. However, the fraternity is still “charged with hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.” The decision to dismiss the most serious charges came after a seven day preliminary hearing which involved 16 of the 18 members charged. The remaining two members had waived their rights to a preliminary hearing. According to the Inquirer, the D.A. “has vowed to refile some of the dismissed charges.”
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