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World & Nation

3 ex-Penn State fraternity members sentenced in student’s hazing death

FILE – In this May 5, 2017, file photo, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, center, stand by as Centre County,
Jim and Evelyn Piazza stand by a photo of their son Tim Piazza in May 2017.
(Abby Drey / Associated Press)

A judge has sentenced three former Penn State fraternity members to jail in the 2017 death of a pledge, the first defendants ordered to serve time behind bars in a case that rewrote Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law.

Centre County Judge Brian Marshall sentenced former Beta Theta Pi members Tuesday for hazing surrounding the death of sophomore engineering major Tim Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, N.J.

Piazza drank heavily the night of a pledge bid acceptance ceremony and was fatally injured in a series of falls, his agonizing night captured on the house’s elaborate video security system. The four men sentenced Tuesday were generally involved in providing alcohol to pledges and pressuring them to drink, prosecutors said.

“Piazza’s ‘brothers’ … repeatedly encouraged and caused more and more alcohol consumption until his judgment and physical control of his body became severely impaired,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. “This directly resulted in his slow and painful death.”

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The sentences ranged from a minimum of 30 days to a maximum of nine months for Michael Bonatucci, 21, of Georgia; Luke Visser, 21, of Encinitas, Calif.; and Joshua Kurczewski, 20, of Erie, Pa. A fourth defendant, Joseph Sala, 21, also from Erie, received three to 10 months of house arrest.

Each was also fined and given a probation term. They were all sentenced for hazing and conspiracy to commit hazing, and Kurczewski also pleaded guilty to furnishing alcohol to minors.

Kurczewski defense attorney Jeffrey Veitch said they can apply to do their time on home monitoring, but it will be up to the judge to determine whether they are eligible. Lawyers for the three others did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Visser and Kurczewski set up a beer pong station as part of a series of drinking events known as the “gauntlet.” Sala led pledges into the drinking course’s start, prosecutors wrote, and Bonatucci handed out beer.

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An autopsy estimated that Piazza had consumed several times the legal driving limit for alcohol the night of the pledge event. He suffered severe head and abdominal injuries, and ended up in the basement the next morning. But it took members 40 minutes after finding Piazza injured and unconscious before they summoned help.

Twenty-eight members of the now-disbanded fraternity have faced charges, although the most serious allegations of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault were dismissed or withdrawn. Most pleaded guilty to hazing- and alcohol-related counts and received probation and community service, or were enrolled in an alternative sentencing program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

A lawyer for Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn, who two months ago sued former fraternity members and a security company hired to enforce alcohol regulations, called the sentences a significant step toward justice.

“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,” said the lawyer, Tom Kline.

The state’s new anti-hazing law, named for Piazza, took effect in November.

Two former Beta Theta Pi members, who served as president and pledge master, face charges that include reckless endangerment, hazing and alcohol violations. Their case is on hold while state prosecutors appeal an order that evidence from their cellphones can’t be used.

Another member is accused of evidence tampering related to the security camera footage, and his case is in the preliminary stages. Two others are scheduled to be sentenced April 15.


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