'They Treated Our Son As Road Kill,' Timothy Piazza's Parents Say
May 15, 2017 11:13 AM
by Geoff Rushton
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Updated 12:39 p.m.

The parents of the Penn State student who died after falling during an alcohol-fueled fraternity event spoke about their son's death, the fraternity and the university in an interview with NBC's "Today" aired on Monday.

"This wasn't boys being boys," Timothy Piazza's father, Jim, said. "This was men who intended to force-feed lethal amounts of alcohol into other young men. And what happened throughout the night was just careless disregard for human life. They basically treated our son as road kill and a rag doll."

The family and their attorney also spoke to ABC's "Good Morning America," on Monday.

Timothy Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, N.J., died on Feb. 4 after falling head first down the stairs and then multiple times throughout the night of Feb. 2 and early morning hours of Feb. 3 during a bid acceptance party at Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Piazza was heavily intoxicated at the time of his fall after consuming large amounts of alcohol in an initiation event dubbed "the Gauntlet," according to a grand jury presentment.

"Nobody should consume that much alcohol,'' Piazza's mother, Evelyn, said. "That's torture."

Piazza first fell just before 11 p.m. on Feb. 2 and prosecutors say video and testimony showed fraternity members were aware Piazza was in need of medical attention but no one called for help until 10:48 a.m. on Feb. 3. The fraternity and 18 members have been charged with various crimes related to Piazza's death and its aftermath, including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, hazing, providing alcohol to minors and tampering with evidence.

A forensic pathologist determined Piazza's blood alcohol content at the time of his fall would have been as high as .36. He was first taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center then flown to Hershey Medical Center, where doctors found he had a non-recoverable brain injury and life-threatening spleen injury.

According to the grand jury presentment, video surveillance in the fraternity house documented how fraternity brothers made various efforts to wake Piazza throughout the night.

"They slapped him. They threw water in his face. They sat on him," Jim Piazza said. "They punched him where the ruptured spleen was."

One fraternity member appeared to administer a sternal rub, which tests for a person's level of unconsciousness by putting rolling pressure on the sternum to elicit a response. Piazza did not appear to respond to the rub, prosecutors said. 

"Somebody knew what a sternum rub was and knew if he didn’t react to it there is a significant issue," Jim Piazza said. "They did nothing about it."

Piazza's brother, Michael, who is also a Penn State student, said he was the first family member to learn Timothy was in the hospital after suffering serious injuries.

He told Today that one of his brother's roommates called him on the morning of Feb. 3 because Timothy had not come home. Michael called the hospital and was told Timothy was in the emergency room.

"When I got there I found out pretty quickly how serious it was," Michael Piazza said. "I had to call my mom to let her know that he was severely injured and that they were going to fly him to the Hershey Medical Center because it was so severe they couldn’t treat him there."

At Hershey, surgeons sat down Piazza's parents and told them he had a non-recoverable brain injury. Jim and Evelyn sat with him, held his hand and spoke to him. At one point, Jim Piazza said, a tear came to Timothy's eye. He asked a doctor if Timothy could hear them. "Maybe," was the answer.

"But frankly I don’t know if I want to know if he heard us or not because if he heard us then he knew he was going to die," Jim Piazza said.

He said he asked doctors if the outcome would have been different had his son received help sooner and was told yes.

"They killed him," Jim Piazza said.

No one from the fraternity or Penn State administration attended the wake or funeral, his parents said. When they met with Penn State President Eric Barron, they brought a copy of the mass book that had Timothy's picture on it.

"I slid it across the table and said ‘Here, since no one had the time to come to the services I thought you might want to see this,'" Jim Piazza said.

The university said in a statement on Monday that administrators "deeply regret" not having a representative at Piazza's funeral.

"The University administrator assigned responsibility for representing the school at student funeral services was unable to attend the service for Tim due to a personal emergency," the statement said. "He contacted the Piazza family in advance of the service to let them know about his conflict. The University did participate in a vigil held with the Piazza family on campus. Even so, we deeply regret that no one was asked to attend Tim’s funeral in his place. There should be no question, however, that Tim, his family, and his friends have been constantly in our thoughts ever since this tragedy occurred, and there they remain, with our most profound sympathy."

Piazza's family has not watched the video surveillance footage that recorded what happened in the Beta Theta Pi house that night. But his father said he would watch it with administrators if it could have an impact.

"We haven’t seen the video and I don’t really want to see it," Jim Piazza said. "I will tell you this. If the Board of Trustees and President Barron sit down to watch the video with me, I’ll watch it. I don’t want to see it as a parent because I feel like it’s going to be incredibly painful and the last memories of my son will be him being abused for 12 hours and dying a slow and painful death."

The Piazzas told "Today" that they have retained an attorney but are focused on the criminal cases and establishing a foundation in Timothy's name.

Their attorney, Tom Kline, told ABC News on Monday that the family plans to file a lawsuit against the fraternity, fraternity members and the university.

Kline alleged that Penn State knew there was a "widespread" problem with alcohol and hazing but did nothing about it.

"They looked away," Kline told ABC.

In March, the university permanently banned Beta Theta Pi from Penn State and instituted sweeping changes related to alcohol and new member recruitment for fraternity and sorority organizations.

Barron said the grand jury's findings are "heart-wrenching and incomprehensible."

"The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand," Barron said after the release of the presentment. "It is numbing how an atmosphere that endangers the well-being and safety of another person could occur within an organization that prided itself on commitment to each other and to its community."

A new web page published by the university on Friday details the steps it is taking to address the problems of overconsumption of alcohol, underage drinking and hazing.

"Our commitment to change remains strong," the page state. "We will not rest until we solve this problem."

 

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