Timothy Piazza’s death is attributed to a combination of events that resulted in an excessive consumption of alcohol and the subsequent series of falls and injuries he sustained because of this intoxication.
Piazza was ultimately discovered in the basement of Beta Theta Pi and the fraternity brothers didn’t call 911 until almost 12 hours after his initial fall. The involvement of those at the fraternity house that night didn’t stop after Piazza was taken to Hershey Medical Center, however, as the grand jury presentment reveals how members acted to protect themselves and the fraternity.
The revealing grand jury presentment tells the details and timeline of the night that led to Piazza’s death. The grand jury ultimately concluded that the former brothers and pledges of Beta Theta Pi actively construed to cover up what happened to Piazza as well as their decision not to contact emergency services until long after Piazza’s initial injuries were sustained.
The grand jury report tells that Kordel Davis tried to convince his brothers to get help for Piazza at 11:15 p.m. after his initial fall down the basement stairs, but was pushed and told the situation was under control and that he should leave. Though the brothers tending to Piazza were likely not fully aware of the weight of the situation at this time, it appears to be the first time anyone acts in a way that covers up or further harms Piazza by not seeking emergency medical attention.
Piazza and his health are not again considered until he is found in the basement at 10 a.m. on February 3, the morning after Beta’s bid acceptance night. He was discovered by Daniel Erickson and Kyle Pecci behind a bar, and the two carried him up the basement stairs and again laid him on a couch in the great hall. According to the grand jury report, despite the fact that Piazza was pale, cold to the touch, breathing heavy, and covered in blood, nobody called 911.
As Piazza laid on the couch, multiple brothers tended to him by wiping the blood from his face, changing his clothes, and attempting to prop him up instead of calling for help. Brothers searched things on their phones like “binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands” to, as it appears, see how or if his injuries were impacted by how much he drank. Seven minutes later, at 10:48 a.m., a brother finally called 911 but failed to tell the dispatcher about Piazza’s fall or when his injuries were sustained.
The grand jury report has a whole section titled “The Cover Up,” revealing that the brothers who were involved made conscious, sober efforts to protect themselves and the fraternity. The cover up — the deletion of GroupMe, Facebook, and text messages — is significant, proving the brothers and pledges of Beta Theta Pi knew they made a significant mistake in not calling the police sooner.
Detective David Scicchitano discovered that GroupMe conversations were actively deleted, one of which fraternity vice president Ed Gilmartin admitted to deleting so the national chapter of Beta Theta Pi wouldn’t “learn the brothers hosted a party despite being a ‘dry’ fraternity,” according to the presentment. Gilmartin also admitted to Scicchitano that the brothers considered erasing the video surveillance footage, the key piece in determining what happened on bid acceptance night.
Members of Beta determined if they deleted a GroupMe conversation it couldn’t be recovered, but they didn’t know about Facebook. Pledge master Daniel Casey searched “how to delete a group on Facebook” on February 4 (the day Piazza died) according to the presentment, clearly aware there was something in those groups that might indict him or another member of the fraternity. Other chilling searches on Casey’s phone from that day include “how would 9 drinks in an hour affect a 200 pound guy,” “how does a person act when their BAC is 1.6,” “the 10 most gruesome college hazing rituals,” and “hazing deaths.”
But worse than the actual deletion of the conversations is the content of the conversations themselves. President Brendan Young, Casey, and other brothers discussed whether or not they should have called the police, what might happen to them, and what they could do to cover up their actions of that night.
“Make sure the pledges clean the basement and get rid of any trace of alcohol,” Young texted Casey. Young also texted individuals asking if they had deleted a messaging group, presumably between brothers and/or pledges that could contain damning information, and stated how he hoped “none of [them]get into any lawsuits.”
He admitted, however, that he believed the chances of the fraternity house getting shut down were “very high” and members might be sued for giving Piazza the alcohol that contributed to his death as well as not calling 911 immediately.
“I just don’t know what I’m liable for as president,” Young told the brother he was texting.
The clearest evidence of a cover up comes from a deleted text from pledge Daniel Erickson’s phone, where he spreads a story that appears to have been fabricated to hide the fact the brothers waited almost 12 hours to call 911 after Piazza’s initial fall.
“If need be, just tell them what I told you guys, found [Piazza] behind an away bar the next morning around 10 a.m., and he was freezing-cold, but we decided to call 911 instantly, because the kid’s health was paramount,” Erickson wrote, according to the grand jury report.
Despite this, Gilmartin wanted to be sure the pledges kept things under wraps.
“Make sure the pledges keep quiet about last night and the situation,” he said in a text to Casey, to which Casey responded, “they know.” Casey also said to brother Lars Kenyon, “Find that groupme so there’s no evidence on tims [sic]phone.”
The grand jury concluded the actions highlighted above prove the members of Beta Theta Pi actively construed, both following Piazza’s death and in years past, to cover up the hazing as well as their long delay in calling 911 despite Piazza’s condition.
“As their text conversations and messages illustrate, the brothers also understood that their actions constituted hazing and what the likely consequences would be if discovered,” the presentment reads. “Therefore, over 40 minutes elapsed before they even summoned an ambulance when they discovered Timothy looking deathly ill the following morning, and a campaign ensued in the following days to destroy any evidence that would reveal exactly what had been happening behind the doors of Beta Theta Pi.”