Family of Timothy Piazza, victim in Penn State fraternity tragedy: They treated him like a 'rag doll'
The family of Timothy Piazza, the Penn State sophomore who died in a fraternity initiation ritual, described the appalling actions of his fraternity brothers and his anguished final hours in an interview with Matt Lauer on TODAY Monday.
Piazza, 19, died on Feb. 4 as a result of a Beta Theta Pi pledge event two days before in which he suffered multiple injuries in a fall down the stairs while highly intoxicated, according to police. Eighteen members of the fraternity, which the university has disbanded, are facing criminal charges.
"It was horrific,'' said his father, Jim Piazza. "This wasn't boys being boys. This was men who intended to force-feed lethal amounts of alcohol into other young men. And what happened throughout the night was just careless disregard for human life. They basically treated our son as roadkill and a rag doll."
No one called 911 for nearly 12 hours after Piazza's fall. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.40, five times the legal limit, after being plied with drinks along with other pledges at the event, according to police.
"Nobody should consume that much alcohol,'' his mother, Evelyn, said. "That's torture."
Much of the scene was captured on surveillance video by the fraternity house's internal system, but the Piazza family has not watched the footage of his final hours.
"We haven't seen the video yet, and I don't really want to see it,'' Jim Piazza said. "But I will tell you this: If the board of trustees and President (Eric) Barron sit down to watch the video with me, I'll watch it.
"I don't want to see it as a parent, because I feel like it's gonna be incredibly painful. And the last memories of my son will be him being abused for 12 hours and dying a slow and painful death."
After Piazza fell head first down 15 basement steps around 11 p.m., four fraternity brothers allegedly carried him upstairs to a couch. Fraternity members can be seen on camera slapping him, throwing water on his face, sitting on him and rubbing his abdomen, Piazza said.
One of his roommates notified his brother, Michael, a rising senior at Penn State, that something was wrong. Michael then called the hospital, which informed him that his brother was in the emergency room.
"When I got there I found out pretty quickly how serious it was,'' Michael told TODAY.
Jim and Evelyn rushed to the hospital to find him in surgery. Doctors later broke the terrible news that their son had a non-recoverable brain injury.
Doctors permitted the Piazzas to go in the room and see him.
"We talked to him a little bit,'' Jim said. "We held his hand. A tear came to his eye, and I said to the doctor, 'Can he hear us?' And the doctor said, 'Maybe.' Relieved a lot of pressure. Maybe. But frankly, I don't know if I want to know if he heard us or not, because if he heard us, then he knew he was gonna die."
The 12 hours between Timothy's initial fall and when the fraternity brothers called 911 were crucial in their son's death, according to Jim.
"I said, 'If he was brought here earlier, would the outcome be different?' Jim said. "And the doctor said, 'Yeah.'
"They killed him," Jim said.
No one from the fraternity or the university showed up for Tim's wake or funeral, according to his parents.
The family has created The Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation in his memory, which aims to help those who are in need of prosthetic devices, particularly for children, and to provide a scholarship to a student or students at his high school alma mater, Hunterdon Central in Flemington, New Jersey.
Eighteen members of the fraternity now face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to aggravated assault.
"They threw their lives out," Jim said. "You don't do the crime if you don't do the time. I mean, we didn't ask them to do that to our son."
The Piazzas are hoping others can learn from their son's death.
"Do the right thing,'' Jim said. "Understand what happened here. And if ever you're in a situation where somebody needs help, help them. It's a phone call away. There's no reason to not help somebody that's in need."
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