A forensic pathologist testified that injuries killing a Penn State fraternity pledge last year might not have been fatal if fraternity members had summoned help more quickly. Dr. Harry Kamerow took the stand in a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed with charges against 11 members of Beta Theta Pi in the death of Tim Piazza of Lebanon, N.J.
Piazza died of severe head, spleen and abdominal injuries from falling down basement stairs the night of a pledge bid acceptance ceremony, Kamerow said, adding Piazza had also consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol – three or four times the legal limit for driving.
He said Piazza would have had a better chance of surviving had help been called after he was brought upstairs. Instead, fraternity members were shown on camera taking half-hearted and even counterproductive steps to address his condition, and an ambulance was not called until the next morning.
“He has a much better shot at survival, if they brought him out of the basement, recognized what’s going on,” and called an ambulance, Kamerow testified. “If he’s very close to that period, he’s got a good shot. As time passes on, his prognosis grows dimmer and dimmer and dimmer.”
The defendants, among 26 young men accused of crimes related to Piazza’s death, were not in court for the preliminary hearing.
Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, were in the courtroom as Kamerow described their son’s injuries, which included a fractured skull, brain bleeding, a shattered spleen and bruises. A detective described text messages among fraternity brothers planning pledge events, and prosecutors showed the judge photos of the house and a floor plan, laying the stage for two hours of excerpts from security footage. Previously shown footage from the house’s security camera system captured Piazza participating in a pledge drinking gauntlet, then being carried upstairs after a fall down the steps at about 11:20 p.m. He was ultimately left alone in the dimly lighted first-floor “great room” overnight.
In the morning, Piazza somehow ended up back in the basement, where fraternity members found him unconscious. They carried him upstairs and then waited 40 minutes to summon help. He died at a hospital less than a day later.
Five of the 11 defendants are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Other charges include hazing, reckless endangerment, conspiracy and alcohol violations.
The attorney general’s office has said its review of the case is ongoing and has not indicated its plans for other defendants, but court officials said they reserved a courtroom for eight days, starting May 2. During a break in the hearing, the Republican leader of the state Senate announced a proposal to make severe hazing a felony and allow for confiscation of fraternity houses where hazing occurs. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, who represents the area around Penn State, also would require schools to report all violations of the anti-hazing policies his bill would mandate.
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