The Consequences Of Calling Sooner: Medical Amnesty In State College

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Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller filed charges against Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 18 of its former members last week based on recommendations from a grand jury investigating the death of Penn State sophomore Tim Piazza.

The grand jury presentment detailed everything that happened on the night Piazza fell down the basement steps multiple times at the fraternity house. Piazza was accepting a bid to join the fraternity that night.

By and large, the most shocking aspect of the presentment was the fraternity brothers’ refusal to call paramedics after Piazza initially fell — even when some members of the fraternity thought it was necessary.

Why?

We’ll probably never know. But one reason many college students resist calling emergency services when necessary is because of potential consequences they think they or the person who needs medical assistance may face. Basically, students under 21 avoid calling 911 because they don’t want themselves or their friends to be cited for underage drinking.

Nearly 12 hours after Piazza’s first fall, fraternity brother Ryan McCann finally called 911, but not before brothers spent 42 minutes shaking Piazza, attempting to prop his body up on the couch, covering him with a blanket, wiping his face, and attempting to dress him.

McCann also spent 10 minutes on his phone searching the phrases “falling asleep after head injury,” “true or false, a person with a serious head injury or concussion should be kept awake,” cold extremities in drunk person,” and “binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands.”

What could have happened to the fraternity brothers if they called 911 sooner?

Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed medical amnesty into law in 2011 throughout the Commonwealth.

“The law amended 18 Pa.C.S. (Crimes and Offenses) to add a subsection to Section 6308 creating immunity from prosecution for a person under the age of 21 for the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages if law enforcement, including campus safety police, became aware of the possession or consumption solely because the individual was seeking medical assistance for someone else,” State College Assistant Borough Manager for Public Safety Tom King said via email.

To qualify for the immunity, the person seeking the assistance (which in this case would be McCann), would need to fall under these conditions:

  1. Reasonably believe he or she is the first to call for assistance.
  2. Use his or her own name with authorities.
  3. Stay with the individual who needs medical assistance until help arrives.

Even if McCann was underage drinking when Piazza needed emergency medical services, McCann would not have been cited by police as long as he met all three criteria.

This is not the case, however, for others present at the party or for Piazza himself.

Other people at the Beta Theta Pi house that night, likely including fraternity brothers, other pledges, and members of female organization Trilogy, could have been cited for underage drinking when police arrived at the fraternity house.

Given Piazza’s projected blood alcohol content, he likely would’ve also been cited when he arrived at the hospital and they tested his blood.

Based on the current law, the amnesty or immunity does NOT attach or apply to the person who needs the medical assistance,” King said. “It applies only to the caller if the conditions above are met but again does NOT legally apply to the person who needs the help.”

But in the grand scheme of things, an underage is a minor charge. Most students are able to get them expunged, and even if they’re not, the fines and charges are minimal compared to what the involved members of Beta Theta Pi are facing.

Photo By: Patrick Cines
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Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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