Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A brotherhood of neglect at Penn State

A young man is dead. No one gets points for almost doing the right thing.

I dare you to read the grand jury report about the hazing death of a 19-year-old Penn State student without getting ill.

Read it without your stomach turning at the lack of humanity shown to Timothy Piazza, who slowly died from head injuries and internal bleeding as his fraternity brothers mostly went on a booze-fueled night.

Read it without being sickened by the warped show of "brotherhood" that allowed fraternity members to justify doing little to help another person and who then put self-preservation above loyalty.

Read it without screaming!

I've read the horrific 65-page grand-jury report, and mostly I want to get in the faces of every single one of Piazza's pathetic frat bros and scream the words that his father, Jim, repeated during a news conference after charges were filed against 18 Beta Theta Pi members, and the fraternity, in the February death of his son:

"This didn't have to happen."

At so many points in the hours between  10:45 p.m. Feb. 2, when a drunk Piazza fell down the steps at the frat house, and 10:48 a.m. Feb. 3, when an ambulance finally was called, there were  countless times where this tragedy could have taken a different turn and ended with Piazza alive.

Just two days after he arrived at the Beta house for pledge activities, the sophomore engineering major from Lebanon, N.J., who wanted to build prosthetic devices for children and soldiers, died at Hershey Medical Center.

What if someone had called for help the first time Piazza fell down the stairs during the hazing ceremony?

What if instead of putting a backpack full of textbooks on him so he didn't roll over and choke on his own vomit, someone called medical professionals?

What if instead of slapping him, throwing water on him, and documenting his deterioration on Snapchat, the members of the fraternity had exerted just a sliver of that effort by calling 911? In Pennsylvania, "medical amnesty" allows people to help an underage drinker without getting in trouble with the law.

And while it's unclear when the policy was instituted, Penn State says students who act responsibly by notifying the appropriate authorities typically won't face university disciplinary action. It requires students to attend an alcohol educational program, but the $250 fee is waived.

What if one frat brother – one! -  out of who knows how many who were in the house at the time did the right thing.

I am trying to appreciate how hard it must be to go against a group that you're desperately trying to belong to, to speak up when you're struggling to find your place – especially when that group is full of alpha males drunk on power and crazy amounts of alcohol in a frat that absurdly presented itself as dry.

Piazza and other pledges were ordered to run a gauntlet of drinking stations at the party that night. A doctor found that Piazza's blood alcohol content was between 0.28 and 0.36 when he first fell down the steps. That's between three and four times the legal limit for driving in Pennsylvania.

A young man is dead. No one gets points for almost doing the right thing.

In a deleted text from a frat brother that was recovered, one member wrote, "If need be, just tell them what I told you guys, found him behind [a bar] the next morning at around 10 a.m., and he was freezing-cold, but we decided to call 911 instantly, because the kid's health was paramount."

The kid's health was paramount.

Of all the things that sicken me about this case, that sentence, which clearly shows that these weren't just some good kids who made a bad decision, might make me sickest of all.

The kid was supposed to be your brother.