At first, Cordell Davis thought his fellow pledge had just had too much to drink, he said. They were new initiates to Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State and had just run the gantlet — a series of stations where they guzzled beer, wine and vodka as fast as they could.
But Tim Piazza had fallen down a flight of stairs on that morning in February and was on a couch in the frat house, unresponsive. Davis said he thought he should be at a hospital instead, and told his new frat brothers so.
“They said ‘No you’re overreacting. You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ ” Davis recounted in an interview on “Good Morning America” that aired Friday. “I said ‘I do know what I’m talking about. He could have a concussion.
“They just wanted to make sure that they themselves were safe rather than Tim truly being safe.”
Davis’s interview elaborated on what happened in the final hours of Piazza’s life. Authorities announced charges against 18 fraternity members on Friday, after a grand jury concluded that “the Penn State Greek community nurtured an environment so permissive of excessive drinking and hazing that it emboldened its members to repeatedly act with reckless disregard to human life.”
Eight fraternity members were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Other charges included hazing, aggravated and simple assault, alcohol-related violations and evidence tampering.
The chapter house was celebrating with Piazza, Davis and other students who had just accepted bids to join the fraternity. During the pledging party, Piazza fell down the stairs after drinking excessively, but no one called for help for almost 12 hours, according to police.
During those hours, things only got worse. Several times, Piazza tried to stand but fell, hitting his head.
At about 1 a.m., fraternity brothers put a backpack full of books on Piazza, who had thrown up and was twitching, in an attempt to keep him from rolling onto his back, according to the grand jurors’ findings. After 3 a.m., Piazza tried to stand but fell, hitting his head on the floor. He fell again at 4 a.m. At 5 a.m., he fell, hit his head on an iron railing and landed on a stone floor.
He got up, trying to get to the front door, but fell and hit his head on the door. Fraternity brothers stepped over him, according to the findings. After 7 a.m., Piazza fell down the basement stairs again. When fraternity members found him, unconscious, cold to the touch, and with blood on his face the next morning, it was more than 40 minutes before they called 911.
When police were finally summoned, they rushed Piazza to the hospital, but he died the next morning.
In the wake of Piazza’s death, Penn State President Eric J. Barron permanently banned the fraternity. In a statement, he called the details in the indictment “heart-wrenching and incomprehensible” and announced beefed up regulations for fraternities and sororities.
In the statement, he said that the fraternity chapter where Piazza died had been a model for others:
“Both the Beta alumni and the national organization provided strict rules of behavior; and, the brothers had a no alcohol policy which stated that anyone caught drinking would be expelled.”