The girlfriend of a Penn State University student who died after falling several times during an alcohol-fueled fraternity event said she was surprised that Timothy Piazza decided to pledge a fraternity but “understood that he wanted a brotherhood.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not what he got,” Kaitlyn Tempalsy told “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer in an interview that aired Tuesday.
The family of the college sophomore from Lebanon, New Jersey, was also surprised by the 19-year-old’s resolve to join the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, noting the teen was a “low-risk guy” growing up, and didn’t think Greek life would be “his scene.”
“My perception was that it was just a party scene, and that wasn’t really Tim’s thing,” Piazza’s father, Jim Piazza, told Lauer. “I just thought it would be a great distraction for him. I think he wanted to be part of something that was his own and I’m fairly confident that he researched this fraternity and on paper they looked like a good fraternity. Hazing free, alcohol free.”
Jim said he “knows for a fact” that Timothy never touched an alcoholic drink in high school. He told Lauer that he was on the board of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program in New Jersey and had warned his children early on “that you cannot embarrass me.”
Piazza consumed what prosecutors said was a life-threatening amount of alcohol during a hazing ritual on Feb. 2. A grand jury report said security camera footage captured events inside the Beta Theta Pi house that night, including pledges being ordered to guzzle alcohol after the ceremony. Piazza appeared to become inebriated and fell face-first down a flight of basement steps.
Fraternity brothers made half-hearted and even counterproductive efforts to help him, and when one member strongly advocated for summoning help he was shoved into a wall and told to leave, the report said.
Piazza apparently fell down the steps again early the next morning but was not discovered until about 10 a.m. Someone called 911 some 40 minutes later. Piazza died two days later as a result of severe head injuries.
“What happened throughout the night was just careless disregard for human life,” his father said. “They basically treated our son as roadkill and a rag doll."
Jim Piazza said that had another pledge been in his son’s place, Tim “would have made sure that help was called for immediately. And if it wasn’t quick enough, he would have picked him up and taken him to the hospital.”
“I know if the rolls were reversed, he would have helped and he would have walked away from this fraternity,” Tempalsy added.
The Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 18 of its members are facing a number of charges, including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, hazing and serving alcohol to minors. The members were arraigned last week and face preliminary hearings this week.
The Piazzas said no one representing the university or the fraternity attended their son's wake or funeral services.
The university says in a statement released Monday that the administrator assigned to student funeral services had a personal emergency but notified Tim Piazza's family ahead of time that he wouldn't be there. It said it deeply regretted no one was sent in the administrator's place.
Jim Piazza also noted none of the students involved has been expelled. Penn State says disciplinary proceedings are underway.
The family said they are considering a lawsuit but said they're focused now on a criminal case against the 18 members of the now-shuttered fraternity at Penn State.