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Former Beta Theta Pi Brothers Get Jail Time In Hazing Case

Three former Beta Theta Pi members on Tuesday became the first defendants to receive sentences of jail time in the Penn State fraternity hazing case stemming from the 2017 death of pledge Timothy Piazza.

Joshua Kurczewski, 20, was sentenced by Centre County Judge Brian Marshall to three to nine months in county jail followed by one year of probation, as reported by WTAJ. Kurczewski, of Erie, will begin his sentence on May 17. He also was ordered to pay a $2,250 fine and perform 100 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty in January to one count each of hazing, conspiracy to commit hazing and one furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Luke Visser, 21, of Encinitas, Calif., was sentenced to two to six months in jail, a $2,500 fine and 100 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty in December to six counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing.

Michael Bonatucci, 21, received a sentence of 30 days in jail, two years of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine. Bonatucci, of Woodstock, Ga., pleaded guilty in January to three counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing.

Also sentenced on Tuesday was 20-year-old Joseph Sala, of Erie. He received a sentence of three months home confinement, seven months of supervision and two years of probation, as well as a $1,500 fine and 100 hours of community service. He pleaded guilty in January to three counts of hazing and one county of conspiracy to commit hazing

Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn, were in attendance for the sentencings at the Centre County Courthouse Annex in Bellefonte.

“Today was a significant step forward in the long road to justice for the parents of Tim Piazza with the sentencing of three individuals to prison for admitted conspiracy to haze their son,” Piazza family attorney Tom Kline said in a statement on Tuesday night. “Jim and Evelyn, in the courtroom for the sentencing, remain committed to the cause of eradicating hazing and the beneficial deterrent effect of the enforcement of anti-hazing laws throughout the country.”

All four pleading guilty on Tuesday were accused of playing a role in the alcohol-fueled bid acceptance night on Feb. 2, 2017 that precipitated the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore from Lebanon, N.J.. Investigators have said Piazza was given 18 drinks in 82 minutes during the initiation event and basement party that followed before he fell head-first down the basement stairs.

Piazza sustained a series of other falls throughout the night and paramedics were not called until the following morning, nearly 12 hours after his fall down the stairs. He died on Feb. 4, 2017 as a result of brain injuries, head trauma and massive internal bleeding from a shattered spleen, according to a medical examiner.

Deputy Attorney General Andrew Notaristefano said at Sala’s guilty plea in January that all 14 pledges that night at least vomited as a result of the initiation events.

A total of 17 defendants have entered guilty pleas to various misdemeanor charges in the case, with most receiving probation and fines. Six others were accepted into Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) programs for first-time offenders.

Former chapter president Brendan Young and pledgemaster Daniel Casey still face trial on charges of recklessly endangering another person, hazing and furnishing, but their case has been put on hold pending an appeal to state Superior Court. Braxton Becker, who is accused of deleting basement surveillance video footage that was later recovered by an FBI expert, also faces trial on tampering and obstruction charges.

Kurczewski was accused of handing beers to pledges to shotgun after the conclusion of the “gauntlet,” a series of drinking stations in which pledges were encouraged to rapidly consume beer, wine and vodka. Prosecutors said Kurczewski also witnessed Piazza’s fall down the basement stairs and was aware of his condition.

Visser, prosecutors said, operated the beer pong station during the gauntlet and then was seen on video during the basement party holding up a wine bag for several pledges, including Piazza, to drink from. Investigators said Visser also appeared on surveillance video to have taken a photo of Piazza while he was unconscious on a couch after being carried upstairs after his fall. 

Bonatucci pleaded guilty to providing beer to four pledges, none of whom were Piazza, to shotgun during the gauntlet.

Sala was assistant pledgemaster for the fraternity. His role on the bid acceptance night included leading pledges to the entrance to the house and sending them in one by one for the gauntlet. Notaristefano also said in January that Sala was present for discussions about the set up for the gauntlet and brought bottles of vodka to the basement for Casey to use for a lineup where pledges were told to finish a bottle.

Kurczewski, Visser, Bonatucci and Sala each previously had more serious charges, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, either dismissed or withdrawn

All four of defendants sentenced on Tuesday are also among the 28 former fraternity members named as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Piazzas in January in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania.

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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