BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Security camera footage played Monday at a hearing for Penn State fraternity members shows a pledge in apparent agony in the hours after falling down basement steps — and members of the fraternity he had just joined trying to physically restrain him.
Selections from the grainy footage began with 19-year-old Tim Piazza joining other pledges as they went from station to station in a drinking “gantlet,” and Piazza soon appeared to become shaky on his feet. The video included him stumbling through the house before he was found, hours later, in the basement. By the time help was called the next day, a police official said he had the look of a “corpse.”
Piazza died days later.
The preliminary hearing will determine if there is enough evidence to send the case to county court for trial. Eighteen members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, which has since been banned by Penn State, face a variety of charges, with some accused of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, while others less serious offenses. The fraternity also is accused in the death.
Members of the fraternity spent long periods sitting on his legs and taking other measures designed to limit his movement, while Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, struggled to change position or get off the “great room” couch where he was taken unconscious after the Feb. 2 fall.
“He looked dead, he looked like a corpse” by the time he was found the next morning from what may have been a second fall, said State College Police Detective David Scicchitano.
Fraternity brothers and pledges hovered around Piazza, at one point strapping a bag filled with books to keep him from turning over and choking on his own vomit, and at another stage bringing in a bucket to clean up when he did vomit. Individuals poured liquid on him, slapped him and even threw his own shoes on him, Scicchitano told the judge.
Meanwhile, the party appeared to go on, as people came and went, some looking concerned about his condition while others seemed to take no notice.
Shortly before 4 a.m., after a fraternity member saw him on the floor and put a blanket over him, Piazza was alone in the floor of the fraternity house.
The camera caught him trying several times to struggle to his feet, falling over into the fetal position and eventually getting up and then stumbling head-first into a wall or door. He also was seen falling and hitting his head on the stone floor, and grabbing his head and midsection in apparent agony.
Piazza consumed what prosecutors said was a life-threatening amount of alcohol during a hazing ritual at the house in State College, Pennsylvania. He died two days later.
Fraternity members didn’t call 911 until nearly 12 hours after his first fall.
Piazza’s father, Jim, rocked back and forth quietly in the front row of the courtroom as he heard his son’s final hours described. When the video started, he and his wife Evelyn left the courtroom.
Members of the fraternity, in the courtroom well with their lawyers, watched the footage with rapt attention.
Scicchitano said Piazza was clearly injured after his first serious fall, at 11:22 p.m.
“He is unconscious, his eyes are closed, he is limp. He is dead weight,” he said, also noting he had a bruise on his abdomen.
Members of the fraternity went looking for him the next morning and found him in the basement, unconscious with labored breathing.
By that time, he had “lost all color,” and some of the fraternity members thought he may have died, Scicchitano said. It would be another 42 minutes before anyone called 911.
Piazza died at a hospital Feb. 4 from traumatic brain injury and had suffered severe abdominal bleeding as well as a skull fracture and other injuries.
Penn State banned the fraternity after concluding it had engaged in “a persistent pattern” of excess drinking, drug use and hazing.