Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers did not know Timothy Piazza was in “danger” when he fell down a flight of steps at the house in February, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer says defense attorneys and “other sources who have spoken with the students” confirm members of the fraternity say they initially went to help Piazza when he fell.
Despite this statement, fraternity members did not call paramedics until nearly 12 hours later — at 10:49 a.m. the next morning. Piazza was then transported to Mount Nittany Medical Center and flown to Hershey Medical Center, where he died Saturday from traumatic injuries sustained in the fall.
The Inquirer writes defense attorneys say fraternity members carried Piazza upstairs to a couch, gave him water, and “kept an eye on him” after he fell. Piazza even reportedly told jokes at the time. Attorneys said fraternity members didn’t realize until the next morning that Piazza’s condition was far more serious when he wouldn’t wake up.
“I’m upset that the public has a misconception as to what actually happened. The brothers did try to take care of them, but they simply misdiagnosed what the problem was. They erroneously believed he was just drunk and would have to sleep it off,” State College lawyer Matt McClenahen told The Inquirer. “Even though this was a tragedy, there was no malicious intent. There might have been some negligent behavior but there was no malicious intent. It wasn’t a situation where they were just callous and thought they would withhold medical treatment to someone who needed it.”
McClenahen is reportedly representing a member of the fraternity, while another local lawyer, Andrew Shubin, represents another fraternity brother.
“This is a very complicated case, criminally, especially if they are going to seek to hold brothers accountable for homicide or for some sort of manslaughter,” Shubin told The Inquirer. “Generally speaking, it would be potentially very difficult for students to know the difference between a head injury and extreme intoxication.”
Another attorney, who asked to remain anonymous, said the pledges present at bid acceptance the night Piazza fell were “expected — but not forced — to drink” vodka, beer, and wine, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It was implied that you were supposed to drink. They wouldn’t make him do it, but it was like you’re a wuss if you don’t.”
The Inquirer also said a lawyer explained some of what police say happened in surveillance videos obtained from the fraternity house of the night Piazza fell. Piazza reportedly got up at one point after other members went to bed, “appeared to walk into walls,” and fell back down.
The Centre County District Attorney’s Office indicated results of the criminal investigation would be released by mid-April, or basically any day now. District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller called a press conference last week regarding a “major arrest” but the announcement was unrelated.
The Philadelphia Inquirer article also confirmed a rumored grand jury investigation of what happened the night Piazza fell, according to lawyers who did not want to be quoted on the record because of the proceedings. Grand juries are convened to determine whether a prosecutor should press criminal charges; their proceedings are confidential.