The parents of a Penn State University student, who died in a hazing ritual while pledging for Beta Theta Pi fraternity, have reached a settlement with the fraternity’s national organization.
Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore, died on February 4, 2017 after drinking copious amounts of alcohol in his first night of pledging the Beta Theta Pi chapter, which was later shuttered by the national fraternity and permanently banned by the university. The fraternity was supposed to be alcohol free.
The settlement, which was announced Tuesday, includes an undisclosed monetary sum and reforms, such as a commitment by the fraternity to require all 139 chapters nationwide to be alcohol and substance free by August 2020.
As part of the settlement, the fraternity for the first time publicly endorsed a proposed state measure aimed at ending hazing injuries and deaths. The settlement also lets the Piazza family move forward with any claims against other parties, including individuals connected to their son’s death.
“That the Piazza family has had to endure the loss of their beloved son and brother, Tim, remains one of the greatest disappointments and darkest hours in Beta’s history,” S. Wayne Kay, general secretary and board chairman of the national organization said in a statement.
As part of the ritual, Piazza consumed 18 drinks in 82 minutes on his first night of pledging. His blood-alcohol level went “from a zero to as high as a .36,” a grand jury report said, almost five times the legal limit.
Piazza suffered a traumatic brain injury from several falls, including a tumble down a set of basement stairs, according to a grand jury investigation. After Piazza fell, fraternity brothers waited more than 12 hours before calling 911.
Piazza died just 29 hours after walking into the fraternity house, according to court records and testimony.
“It is heartbreaking and numbing to know our former members let Tim and his family down in such a tragic way,” Kay said in the statement.
The fraternity has agreed to back the proposed “Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Law,” which would add Pennsylvania to a list of states with tougher penalties. The measure passed the state senate in April but awaits a vote in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
“The settlement represents a unique, cooperative agreement, and is an outgrowth of the determined dedication by Jim and Evelyn Piazza to the cause of preventing hazing injury and death in Greek life in the future,” Piazza family attorney Tom Kline said in a joint statement with the fraternity. “By this settlement, the Piazzas and Beta help to establish a baseline for the new norm of fraternity pledging and fraternity life at universities and colleges in the United States.”
Under the reform measures, the Piazzas would be included in any decision-making process involving the future use of the closed Beta Theta Pi fraternity house at Penn State. A college or university’s public safety department would have to be immediately notified of any reported student conduct violations that result in serious injury or death of members or guests. All chapters would be encouraged to install security cameras on all houses, according to the terms.
The terms also require more education and training each semester, instead of each year, on issues such as preventing hazing, alcohol and substance abuse and sexual assault. In February, the national organization’s board of trustees agreed to make all fraternity properties substance free.
Late last month, a Pennsylvania judge dismissed all charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, the most serious offenses, against fraternity members connected to Piazza’s death. Hazing charges were bound over for six men.
This wasn’t the first time these charges have been thrown out. Prosecutors had refiled the more severe homicide-related charges after losing in court, hoping for a different outcome from a different judge.
Prosecutors have secured two guilty pleas for hazing and unlawful acts involving alcohol.