CRIME

3 Ex-Penn State Fraternity Brothers Sentenced To Jail Over Hazing Death

Timothy Piazza, 19, died after consuming a large amount of alcohol during a Beta Theta Pi pledge event and falling down the stairs.

Three former Pennsylvania State University fraternity brothers received jail sentences on Tuesday in connection to the alcohol-fueled death of Timothy Piazza, a pledge, in 2017.

Michael Bonatucci, Joshua Kurczewski and Luke Visser ― all former brothers of Beta Theta Pi ― received minimum sentences that ranged from 30 days to three months behind bars after pleading guilty to hazing-related charges months earlier.

Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student, was pledging the fraternity on Feb. 2, 2017, when he fell down the stairs after consuming a large amount of alcohol. Fraternity members had allegedly instructed pledges to drink excessive amounts of alcohol as part of the various rituals and games. 

No one called for help until the morning after the fall, police said. He was transported to a hospital but died of his injuries two days later. A forensic pathologist said he had experienced respiratory failure from severe head trauma and compromised brain function.

Bonatucci, 21, pleaded guilty in January to three counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing.

He had been manning the beer shotgun station during the pledging event, but left before Piazza fell, according to a sentencing memo obtained by The Centre Daily Times.

Centre County Judge Brian Marshall sentenced Bonatucci to 30 days to six months in the county jail followed by one year of probation.

Kurczewski, 20, pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to commit hazing, one count of hazing and one count of furnishing liquor to a minor.

He gave beer to 10 pledges, including Piazza, the night of the incident and watched as his fraternity brothers moved the injured pledge’s unconscious body, the Daily Times reported, citing a prosecutorial memo.

Marshall sentenced Kurczewski to three to nine months in prison followed by two years of probation.

In this Nov. 9, 2017, file photo, a bicyclist rides past Pennsylvania State University's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity h
In this Nov. 9, 2017, file photo, a bicyclist rides past Pennsylvania State University's shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in State College, Pa.

Visser, 21, pleaded guilty in December to six counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing. He had served pledges alcohol that night and photographed an unconscious Piazza on the couch.

Marshall sentenced him to two to six months in the county jail followed by three years of probation.

A fourth former fraternity brother, 20-year-old Joseph Sala, was sentenced Tuesday to three months of house arrest and two years’ probation. He pleaded guilty in January to three counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy to commit hazing.

This didn’t have to happen. ... No parent should have to go through this. Jim Piazza, Timothy Piazza's father

The Beta Theta Pi fraternity and 18 of their Penn State members have faced hundreds of charges over Piazza’s death, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. Bonatucci, Kurczewski and Visser are the first to receive jail time.

“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 told the Daily Times.

Investigators say Piazza’s blood alcohol concentration ranged somewhere between .28 and .36 ― several times higher than the legal limit for adult drivers ― when he fell down the stairs.

Surveillance footage did not capture the fall, but showed fraternity brothers carrying an unconscious Piazza, pouring liquid on his face and lifting his limbs. Piazza, throughout the night, repeatedly rolled around and vomited, footage shows.

One fraternity brother allegedly encouraged his fellow members to seek medical help, but he was dismissed and ultimately ordered to leave.

“This didn’t have to happen,” Tim Piazza’s father, Jim Piazza, said during a press conference in May 2017. “This is the result of a feeling of entitlement, flagrant disobedience of the law and disregard for moral values that was then exacerbated by egregious acts of self-preservation.”

“No parent should have to go through this,” he added.

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