Jail sentences issued to three former Penn State fraternity members for hazing mark a “a significant step forward in the long road to justice” for the family of a pledge who died more than two years ago, the family’s lawyer says.
Michael Bonatucci, Luke Visser and Joshua Kurczewski on Tuesday became the first defendants to receive jail time for roles related to the death of Timothy Piazza, a sophomore from New Jersey. All previously had pleaded guilty to hazing charges.
Piazza’s parents have been outspoken in their efforts to curb fraternity hazing.
“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,” family lawyer Thomas Kline said.
Piazza, 19, died at a hospital Feb. 4, 2017, two days after a party at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house. A grand jury report issued a few months later concluded that fraternity members were indifferent to clear signs that Piazza was struggling, then engaged in a vigorous effort to conceal evidence of hazing and underage drinking.
Security cameras recorded Piazza drinking vodka and beer, struggling throughout the night and falling multiple times. At one point, while he was on a couch, members put a backpack full of books on his back to keep him from rolling over and choking on his vomit, the report said.
A doctor calculated that Piazza’s blood-alcohol content when he fell down a flight of stairs was .28 to .36 percent – about four times the legal limit for driving – the report said. Doctors concluded Piazza suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries, including a fractured skull and a lacerated spleen.
Piazza died as a direct result of “extremely reckless conduct” of members of the Beta fraternity, aided by the permissive atmosphere fostered by Penn State’s Interfraternity Council, the grand jury found.
More than a dozen students were initially charged, some with involuntary manslaughter. Some of the most serious charges were dropped and others thrown out by judges.
Kurczewski was sentenced to three to nine months on one count of hazing, one count of furnishing liquor to a minor and one conspiracy count.
Bonatucci was sentenced to 30 days to six months in jail on three counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy.
Visser was sentenced to two to six months and fined $2,500 on six counts of hazing and one count of conspiracy.
Each was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and complete 100 hours of community service
The fraternity’s Penn State chapter was dissolved after Piazza’s death. The school adopted a series of changes aimed at monitoring and disciplining fraternities and sororities. It also put limits on social events and tightened regulations for parties where alcohol is served.
Contributing: The Associated Press