Episode 38: Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Hazing on College Campuses
Jim and Evelyn Piazza share the story of their son, Tim, and their mission to end hazing on college campuses. Tim died as a result of hazing rituals while a student at Penn State University in February 2017. This episode debuts on what would have been Tim's 23rd birthday.
Intro Voices 0:05
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me?
Intro Voices 0:31
This is “You Matter”, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi everyone and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion, and so identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Orman Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Jim and Evelyn Piazza, the parents of Tim Piazza. Tim died as a result of hazing rituals, while a student at Penn State University in February 2017. Jim and Evelyn are on a mission to stop hazing on college campuses. Jim and Evelyn, thank you so much for joining me today on You Matter.
Jim Piazza 01:24
Thank you for having us.
Karen Ortman 01:25
Before we get started talking about Tim, and hearing about his life and his story, if you could begin by defining hazing for our listeners, that would be very much appreciated.
Jim Piazza 01:40
Yes, so hazing is any action taken or situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule and risks emotional and or physical harm to members of a group or a team, whether they're new or not, regardless of the person's willingness to participate. That's just one definition of hazing. They're all fairly similar, but what it comes down to, is if you are asking somebody to do something that puts them in physical or emotional harm.
Karen Ortman 02:10
Are we speaking in the context of a higher education environment when we talk about hazing?
Jim Piazza 02:17
It's really in any environment, really. So it's happening, you know, in high schools, it's happening with sports teams. It's happened in the NFL and NFL players have called it out. We see it mostly in universities, higher education and within universities. We see it mostly in the fraternities and sororities.
Karen Ortman 02:38
Okay, so if you would please share with our listeners the story of Tim's life, I want to hear everything about him.
Evelyn Piazza 02:48
Tim was born on September 25, 1997. He was a big baby. We should have known that he was going to be a big boy. Um, but he He he was just use a happy go lucky kid. Really good sense of humor. Little hot headed temper.
Karen Ortman 03:09
Mm hmm. How big was he at birth? You said he was a big baby. How big was he at birth?
Evelyn Piazza 03:15
He was nine one. That is like 21 and a half inches. So, yeah, he was big. And, and his older brother was 18 months older than him. So they were they were a tight little pair them together. And there were a lot of kids in our neighborhood around that age. So he had a nice friend group. And they they did everything together. They played sports together. And then he just he was a really good, good kid.
Karen Ortman 03:47
Yeah. When did he get involved in sports and what sports did he play?
Evelyn Piazza 03:52
We got them involved pretty early on with like the YMCA sports and then the township recreation. They did soccer, basketball and baseball. And Tim wasn't really a fan of soccer. So he joined flag football. And so he started football pretty early on. And then he did tackle football where his his brother did Taekwondo, so they each had their own sport. And they did also.
Karen Ortman 04:21
And did he play football in high school? Tim?
Evelyn Piazza 04:24
Yes, yes. He played football. He made the team. It's a really big school.So he, he played Yeah, it was on on the team.
Karen Ortman 04:35
Yeah. Really big school and really good athletics, as well. At what point in Tim's high school career did he decide that he wanted to go to Penn State?
Jim Piazza 04:53
I mean, I think that was really almost a last minute call when we went on college visits with with Mike, Tim didn't want to go with us really because he didn't want to be influenced by anything. He wanted to do things on his own.
Karen Ortman 05:07
He's very independent.
Jim Piazza 05:09
Yeah, you know, he he definitely had a mind of his own and he had a stubbornness to him about about things. But, you know, he was really zeroed in on on other schools. I really thought he was going to pick Villanova, frankly. And, you know, he got accepted to Villanova. He was excited about it. And but Penn State was his first acceptance letter. It's a rolling admission. And I think at the end of the day, he felt the comfort of being with his brother at Penn State. He wouldn't even come to the football games with us when when Mike was a freshman because he did not want to be influenced into into doing something but i think i think the comfort of having his his brothers and them having a strong engineering program is sure into Penn State and, and not Villanova where, where I really thought he was going to end up.
Karen Ortman 06:11
That's so interesting. So engineering was his interest. Um, what about engineering attracted him?
Evelyn Piazza 06:21
He, the way he looked at it is he was good at math and he was good at science and engineering was both. And he really was interested in how things worked. He would pick something up and kind of examine it and try and figure out how it was built. So it seemed like the logical fit for him
Karen Ortman 06:42
and didn't have an interest in prosthetics, particularly as it pertained to small children?
Jim Piazza 06:48
Yeah, we're, we have no idea where where that came from, you know, he would talk about, you know, wanting to get into prosthetics and developing prosthetics for children. And, and soldiers and and i would say Tim, it's such a narrow field, you know, what, what is drawing you to that? And by the way, you know, my my naivety, I thought all the companies that did that were out in the Midwest, and he had a longtime girlfriend and I'm like, so you may actually have to move out to the Midwest. Is that really what you want to do? And he would just look at me and say, that's what I want to do.
Karen Ortman 07:27
Wow. He knew.
Jim Piazza 07:29
So I don't know where it came from.
Karen Ortman 07:32
That's very interesting. And a very noble cause, of course, as well. So Tim decides he's going to go to Penn State, which I'm sure probably made you both feel very comfortable having your older son there. Sweet that he wanted to go and be at the same school with him. When he talked about going to any college, let alone Penn State, did he ever Express an interest in fraternity life?
Evelyn Piazza 08:04
Not before college. Um, but once he was there, he expressed an interest in it. And I think he tried to rush, you know, one time and he didn't get any bids.
Karen Ortman 08:19
Yeah. Was that as a freshman? Yeah. Because I know that he did ultimately join a fraternity as a sophomore. So his freshman year, fraternities weren't a part of his life. Did he talk to you about pursuing fraternity life again, as a sophomore, or is it just something that he just did?
Jim Piazza 08:49
He definitely mentioned it. I mean, you know, the month before this all happened, we went to the Rose Bowl and he brought it up. And you know I think he was frustrated that Didn't get bids, but he was trying to be particular about which which organizations he was going to rush at. And, you know, some of his roommates were in other fraternities and they were like, just, you know, come join us and he didn't want to do that. He wanted one that he felt was his own and, and he felt was I'll stay above the fray a bit. So, you know, we talked about it a little bit while we were at the Rose Bowl, and I just said, Timmy sure you want to do this? I mean, you know, maybe it was a sign that you shouldn't be doing it. You know, you didn't get you didn't get bids to the places that you wanted. You know, you gotta have you scheduled it was mom talked to him about, you know, the engineering, you know, curriculum and everything that that would entail now, and he said, Well, I think I'll just give it another shot.
Karen Ortman 09:52
And, and he did.
Jim Piazza 09:54
Yeah, he did.
Karen Ortman 09:56
So he decided to join a fraternity and and he did that. And I'm, I'm presuming here, I don't know, in January?
Evelyn Piazza 10:14
Went back to school in January, and rushed. So that's the opportunity to visit multiple fraternities and see what you're interested in and who's interested in you. He had a couple narrowed down that he liked. Bid night was the end of January. And I remember he called me and he was nervously waiting to see if he got any bids. And then he texted me back and told me he got two bids. And one of them was the one that he really wanted Beta Theta Pi. And then two days later was when he got the call to come to bid acceptance night. So I don't even know that we could say he joined, because this was the very first night that this happened.
Karen Ortman 11:07
And that was on February 2, 2017. So the last time you saw Tim, prior to February 2, 2017, was the Rose Bowl.
Jim Piazza 11:25
Well, no, we came back from the Rose Bowl. And he was home for a couple more days before they headed back to school.
Karen Ortman 11:31
Okay. He goes back to school. Mom, Evelyn, you get the text that he got into a fraternity that or I guess was accepted preliminarily into a fraternity that interested him. Any more conversations prior to the night of February 2.
Evelyn Piazza 11:57
I think my reply back to him was that I was happy for him because he was pleased. And I just said, just be smart, because I didn't want him to ignore his studies and ignore what he really wanted to do. I didn't want that to take the hit for doing whatever the fraternity required of him for whatever time that took.
Jim Piazza 12:21
And I was mad at him because he didn't call me to tell me because he knew I wasn't super excited about him joining. So I was a little annoyed with him that he didn't call me and I didn't call him either. And, you know, that's something that I regret every day that I never called him. In my own words of advice.
Karen Ortman 12:41
So February 2, 2017. How did the day's events unfold for you?
Evelyn Piazza 12:52
February 2, as we understand it, Tim got a text message saying report to the fraternity house at 9:05 p.m. wear a shirt, a tie and a jacket. Don't be late. And I think it said prepare to be effed up.
Jim Piazza 13:14
We're going to get you effed up.
Karen Ortman 13:16
Okay. And that came from some form of leadership in the fraternity, I'm sure. What happened the evening of February 2.
Evelyn Piazza 13:34
From the court documents, we understand that the pledges, potential new members, arrived at the house. There were 14 of them. They were lined up in the basement. Oh, first they had a ceremony. And it was reading of the book, singing whatever song candle whatever it is that they do and then began the quote unquote gauntlet. Okay, and the pledges were lined up in the basement and handed a handle of vodka. And we're told to finish the vodka by the end of the line, otherwise, the last person would have to finish the bottle. Instead, the bottle went back and forth through the line three times. So on average, each pledge had about three and a half shots of vodka.
Karen Ortman 14:29
How many ledges were there?
Evelyn Piazza 14:31
14, and then a door would open and one at a time, they would enter this room and then the door would closed and then they'd have to run the gauntlet. And the gauntlet was several alcohol stations, the first one being a vodka station. And then they went to a shotgun station, and then they went to a windbag station and Then they went to a beer pump station. And
Karen Ortman 15:04
so it was non stop drinking.
Jim Piazza 15:07
Yeah. And they were being yelled at. And, and, you know, pushed along and told to drink and really, we've never seen a video but from what we're told it was kind of a chaotic scenario.
Evelyn Piazza 15:26
And supposedly all 14 finished the gauntlet in eight minutes. So they went through all those drinking stations. And then after they did that, they had a quote unquote, celebratory shotgun.
Karen Ortman 15:42
What is a shotgun?
Jim Piazza 15:45
A shotgun is is if you put a hole in a can of beer and then you you pop the top the beer just shoots out down your throat. Never heard of it before but things you learn in the courtroom.
Karen Ortman 16:01
So they had a celebratory shotgun.
Evelyn Piazza 16:05
And then they had what was termed the social, which was just an extension of the hazing. And they lined the pledges up against the wall and they brought more handles out and they handed the handles to the pledges. And then, as the night went on, they basically had a party, they had an underground sorority attend. And because the pledges were dressed with white shirts and ties, they were easily identified, so that according to the video, the brothers would spot a pledge, tap them on the shoulder and hand them whatever form of alcohol they were carrying, and make the pledge drink. So overall, Tim had 18 drinks in 82 minutes.
Jim Piazza 16:56
Well, that's what we saw on the video. That's what that's what was seen on the video, we don't know if there were other drinks that were not on video.
Karen Ortman 17:04
You mentioned an underground sorority what is that?
Evelyn Piazza 17:09
This particular sorority had been disbanded for hazing. They reformed under a new name and became a dance marathon organization. So they were the sister organization to Beta Theta Pi when it came time to raise money for the dance marathon.
Karen Ortman 17:31
Okay. So, Tim, in addition to the other pledges, consumed quite a bit of alcohol and I think he said in 82 minutes. Tell us about Tim. And how that much alcohol manifested itself in him and his story, over the next two days.
Jim Piazza 18:03
Yeah, well, I mean 18 drinks in 82 minutes is is a lethal amount of alcohol for even the seasoned drinker which Tim was not I mean, I've never seen Tim in the least bit drunk and you know, he avoided going out to parties in high school where he thought there would be alcohol so he was not an experienced drinker whatsoever. But you know, for anybody 18 drinks is is a lethal amount I forget his exact blood alcohol content level when when they finally got to test him the next day, but it was still very elevated. Yeah. But that that obviously led to him being significantly inebriated. And and you know, I think one of the brothers noticed that in the basement and I'm just guessing it looks like that individual brought Tim up the stairs and sat him down on a couch. But then he left them alone. And it you know, again, we didn't see the video just based upon what we were told. Tim appeared to look for a way out and he tried to get out the front door, but he couldn't figure out how to open it up, apparently. And then he found his way back to the basement steps which is where he, he fell down, I think, 15 steps face first. And then a couple of minutes later, you see four brothers carrying his limp body upstairs and they flopped him on the couch at that point.
Karen Ortman 19:58
What were the the injuries associated with not only that first fall down the basement. I understand there were several when Tim would attempt to get up and sort of figure his way possibly out of that house and ended up going down the basement steps again. What injuries resulted
Evelyn Piazza 20:28
At some point, they left him alone. That night, everybody else went to bed and he was still on the couch. They never got him any sort of help. Even after he was unresponsive. They did a sternum rub on him, which you're supposed to react to is supposed to be very painful. He did not react. He threw up. They sat on him they backpacked him.
Karen Ortman 20:55
So which so I'm sorry to interrupt you. Um a sternum rub. What is that?
Jim Piazza 21:01
So so I never heard of it again before this but the police explained to us what was so apparently one of the brothers in the house had a medical some sort of a medical background. So a sternum rub is you do something with the person's sternum, you rub it or you press it and it's supposed to be very painful. And you're supposed to react to it, even if you're, you know, unconscious. Just some extent because it is so painful. There was absolutely no reaction. And, you know, according to the police officer, obviously the person that gave it to him knew that something would have been wrong and I didn't react to the sternum rub.
Karen Ortman 21:44
And then No, no calls to police following that, or emergency services. Okay. And then you you spoke of a backpack. What?
Evelyn Piazza 21:56
Yeah, they backpacked Tim, which is when you fill a backpack with heavy books, and you put it on somebody's back who has supposedly had too much to drink and this way they can't roll on their back so that they won't choke on their own vomit. But Tim still, I guess, must have had convulsions or seizure and he rolled off the couch. So people were sitting on him, they poured beer on him, they threw shoes at him, they rolled over um, they just noticed everybody saw that he was in trouble. He threw up. They cleaned it up, but nobody called for help. Three people wanted to call for help. One person was basically assaulted, to prevent him from calling for help. And it worked because he left the building and did not call.
Jim Piazza 22:50
By the way backpacking for anybody that's listening doesn't work. If you backpack somebody if they're if they're at such a point of inebriation. And they start throwing up their their body is not going to expel the vomit. So even if you're you're on your side or potentially even your stomach, you could suck it back in despite the fact that you have a backpack on you. So it doesn't work and we try to make sure that people understand that when we speak.
Karen Ortman 23:19
How long did this go on? before anybody was called for help.
Evelyn Piazza 23:30
I think according to the video testimony, they might have left him alone around two in the morning. And what you were saying before, he would occasionally regain consciousness and stumble around. He's seen on the video on the floor on his hands and knees, cradling his head and holding his stomach rocking back and forth. So he obviously felt pain. He got up and he tried to get out there, he must have known that he was in trouble. And they also took his shirt off of him. I don't know whether he threw up on it or not. So he wasn't wearing a shirt, and he was probably cold because it was February. He tried to get out again and he fell headfirst into the front door. He fell again onto the stone floor. He fell again into the metal staircase railing. So he continued to hit his head. The end result of all his injuries were he had a subdural hematoma which is bleeding on the brain, a significant hematoma that pushed his brain into the base of your neck. He had skull fractures, and he ruptured his spleen. So much so it's the it was the highest grade laceration you can have. And when they finally called for help the next morning and he was brought into the hospital 80% of his body's blood was in his abdomen,
Karen Ortman 25:04
oh my god.
Jim Piazza 25:05
That was about 12 hours later when they ultimately did call.
Evelyn Piazza 25:09
And at that point he was exhibiting decorticate posturing, which is also known as the death pose. And that's where your limbs are drawn in tight to the body because the body is just, it's dying
Karen Ortman 25:22
Jim Piazza 25:24
The president of the fraternity texted his girlfriend that he looked fucking dead.
Karen Ortman 25:29
Wow. You referenced video several times. And I know you've said that you haven't seen the video. What video are you talking about?
Jim Piazza 25:43
So the the house had video cameras installed in it, after a complete makeover was done in there. Once this fraternity was let back on campus after prior suspension, an individual had loan the fraternity and I think $10 million to refurbish it, but one of the things that he mandated was that we had video of what's going on in that house. So if anything gets damaged, we'll know who did it. So there there was video in in, you know, the common area where a lot of this took place as well as in the basement where a lot of this took place.
Karen Ortman 26:22
So 12 hours goes by, somebody reaches out for help on behalf of Tim. At what point are you both notified of the danger that your son is in?
Evelyn Piazza 26:41
So I just want to point out that the next morning everybody got up, and they found Tim shoes, and that's when they realized that he was there in the house. So they went searching for him and they found him in the basement. So he potentially fell down the stairs again, curled up behind a bar wearing a too small jacket, because he must have realized he was cold and found a jacket someplace. And they carried him upstairs again, and then waited 45 minutes before they called 911 as they did searches on their phone for cold extremities and gray skin, and when they finally called 911, the person told the dispatcher that his friend had too much to drink, and never said anything about a fall. So he was taken to the hospital. And it was up to them to figure out what was wrong with him.
Karen Ortman 27:51
So when were you called?
Evelyn Piazza 27:54
So I got a call from my son. Probably around 12, 12:30. Our son mike got a call from one of Tim's roommates who said that Tim didn't come home the night before. And he always comes home and that something must be wrong. So Mike had the presence of mind to think, let me call the hospital to see if he's there. And he called the hospital and they said, Yes, he's here. You need to come right away. So Mike went to the hospital and saw his brother on life support with a neck brace and bruises all over his head and body. Mike calls me up at work and says, Do you have a couple minutes to talk? God forbid, I said no, or I didn't answer my phone. And I said, of course, and he said Tim's hurt. And we're at the hospital. He's in the emergency room. In the emergency room. Doctors gonna call you but you and dad need to come now. They're gonna airlift him to Hershey Medical Center. And then the doctor did call me and told me that Tim was a quote unquote, very sick boy. And I didn't get what he was hinting at. I didn't understand that he was trying to tell me that this didn't look good. Yeah. And he did tell me that Tim had a subdural hematoma. And in my mind, I thought, okay, they'll just drill a hole in his head, and then release the pressure and everything will be fine because I thought he just fell down the stairs and just had, you know, a bump on the head. I had no idea about the extent of his injuries. So I called Jim at work, and we packed bags and got in the car and drove as fast as we could to get to Hershey Medical Center. And when we got there, we had to wait. And finally a chaplain was sent to get us and brought us upstairs so that the surgeons could talk to us?
Karen Ortman 30:02
Jim when Evelyn called you. What was your first sort of reaction? Your first thought? Did you have any idea? The severity of the situation?
Jim Piazza 30:15
No, I just knew Tim was hurt. But you know, it was kind of an eerie morning. Earlier that morning, I was meeting with a college student that somebody asked me to meet with and I was talking to them and just trying to get to know him helping him with some career advice. And, you know, he told me he was in a fraternity. I mentioned though, like, you know, my son's pledging a fraternity I learned about earlier in the in the week and I was mad at him because he didn't call and tell me and you know, so we got to talking and and, you know, kids, so where does he go to school? I said, Penn State and the kid said wow they haze pretty hard at Penn State and he told me a story about When he pledged at Rutgers, he had to go up to Penn State as part of his hazing thing. And he said the guys at Penn State hazed him pretty hard. And then he looked at me like, you know, people die from hazing. And I said, Yeah, yeah, you know, I know. But you know, I really didn't. Um, so I get this call from Ev and I had no idea that anything's going on with any fraternity at that point. We get in the car and start driving out to Hershey, and I said to her, This better not have anything to do with that effing fraternity. And she said, Well, Jim, it was the first night of pledge and it hit me like a ton of bricks. At that point. I knew Tim was gonna die. I didn't say it, but I knew Tim was gonna die. Because I thought about that kid that morning, sending me a signal.
Karen Ortman 31:51
Did you feel the same way? Evelyn?
Evelyn Piazza 31:55
Um, I think I was still trying to be optimistic and thinking that they could do some kind of surgery to release the pressure? Yeah. And I thought okay, so maybe he'll have gait problems. Maybe he'll have to have a little bit of speech therapy. But it'll be fine. And in my head, I kept thinking, God, don't you take my son away from me
Karen Ortman 32:15
Yeah. Wow. So you get to the hospital, um, a chaplain is sent your way. And what did the chaplain say? Do?
Evelyn Piazza 32:30
He really, he just asked us, you know, how our day was going or something something bizarre. It was all like, like filler, like, you know, and, and I just, I didn't really understand I didn't take that as a sign that a chaplain was sent to get us.
Karen Ortman 32:49
Did that mean anything to you, Jim?
Jim Piazza 32:52
Yeah, I knew. I knew. Again, I didn't want to say it because I was hoping I was wrong, but I knew in the car once she said it was the first night of pledging, I knew and then when I saw the chaplain and I was like, done.
Karen Ortman 33:08
How did you not just crumble right there?
Evelyn Piazza 33:15
No he crumbled thereafter when when the surgeon told us
Karen Ortman 33:19
so you so the chaplain accompanies you, I'm assuming to go see your son.
Evelyn Piazza 33:25
Uh, he just walked us to the door and then left and we were in this really small room with a surgeon and a nurse and the doctor said, Your son's brain injuries' non-recoverable. And I remember taking my eyeglasses off and just dropping them on the table and just sitting there in disbelief. And I thought I thought Jim was gonna pass out or hyperventilate, and you know, another surgeon came in and they were trying to you know, like, make sure we were okay. And the second surgeon explained that when they opened up his skull to release the pressure on the brain, that the brain swelled outside of the skull, and that this is considered brain death. And we asked, don't you have any other tests to prove brain death? And they said, we do but they can't be done because of his other injuries. So we had to take their word for it that our son was brain dead.
Karen Ortman 34:31
At what point did you go and physically see him?
Evelyn Piazza 34:37
I guess they had brought him to a recovery room. And they told us that we could go in
Karen Ortman 34:46
Where was Michael at this point?
Evelyn Piazza 34:48
Mike wasn't there yet. And then he came while we were still waiting and we told him and the unbelievable strength of my son. He held both of our hands. And he told us that it would be okay.
Karen Ortman 35:08
Evelyn Piazza 35:12
And then, um, Tim's girlfriend also came with her dad. And we all went together.
Karen Ortman 35:22
And when you walked in the room, what did you see?
Evelyn Piazza 35:27
He was covered completely in blankets wrapped tightly, the only skin showing were his shoulders he had a white Goss stocking cap on his head to cover the bandages. He was on a ventilator. There were tubes and wires everywhere. He was surrounded by machines, monitoring his oxygen, his blood pressure, his temperature and just as evidence of being brain dead, his brain wasn't regulating the body and the machines were doing all the work. They were trying to raise his body temperature. So they had warming lights on him. And his oxygen level was going down. So they made us leave the room so they could put chest tubes in his lungs to hopefully bring his oxygen level back up, and, and they said that they think he aspirated on vomit. So his lungs were compromised, also.
Karen Ortman 36:33
Was there any recognizable feature of your little boy that you saw
Jim Piazza 36:44
Some of the the moles on his face?
Karen Ortman 36:47
Evelyn Piazza 36:49
Yeah, I mean, when I first looked at him, I thought, yes. But then as time was going on. It looked like he was like swelling more from, you know all the surgery and injuries.
Jim Piazza 37:06
I think Mike put it best. In an interview that we did, shortly thereafter. He said it looked like Tim got hit by a truck when he first saw all the bruising, swelling, swelling.
Evelyn Piazza 37:23
Yeah. And then we called. We asked if he could get last rites.
Karen Ortman 37:30
And I'm sure that that happened.
Evelyn Piazza 37:37
That's so incredibly hard.
Karen Ortman 37:39
Yeah. How much time were you allowed in the room with him?
Evelyn Piazza 37:49
We were allowed to stay in the room. But then when one of the doctors told us his heart rate is going to go down. He's going to crash. So you need to decide whether we resuscitate him or whether you let him go. And so Jim said, Well, of course you have to resuscitate him. And he's like, well, you really should talk about this. So we all went to a room me, Jim, Mike, Tim's girlfriend and her dad. And I have a cousin that lives in the area. She came with her husband and her husband's a doctor. So we brought him in with us. And we all sat there and talked. When we were trying to figure out what would Tim want? Would Tim want to be on machines? Would you know, would this be something that he wouldn't want? And Mike finally looked at us and said, Would you want that? And we all looked at each other and we said, no.
Karen Ortman 38:53
It made sense.
Evelyn Piazza 38:54
Right, turn the machines off. And just as we went to open the door, to tell the doctors no don't resuscitate him. friends of ours who had also driven there to be with us and they were sitting with Tim while we were discussing this came running out and they said something's happening. They threw us all out of the room. You need to come now. So we went running down the hallway. And they were resuscitating Tim. Jim didn't look. But I did, I watched.
Karen Ortman 39:32
what did you see?
Evelyn Piazza 39:44
And they were doing chest compressions. First when we first got there and and they did tell us when we resuscitate him, we're probably going to break some ribs when we do this. So just knowing that resuscitation only caused more damage and then it was only going to happen again. We said, Okay, next time, don't do it. So a nurse pulled me forward and told me to kiss my baby goodbye. And I tried to find like some empty skin where I could kiss him and through the machines and get to his face, and then it wasn't that much longer afterwards, when he crashed again. And we all just let him go. And they were probably 10 other personnel in the room with us. And we just stood and watched and let him go.
Karen Ortman 41:01
That had to be so painful. I can't imagine.
Jim Piazza 41:06
Yeah, I actually looked at one of the doctors, the head doctor that was there I said it, you know, didn't call somebody to call for help. You know, sometime right after this first happened, would we have a different outcome here? And he just looked at me and then looked down and said, yeah.
Karen Ortman 41:26
Meaning, we're going back to that 12 hour period where he was basically alone. If if somebody had called earlier on, he would be here today. Yeah, that that is truly heartbreaking, in a whole different way. So you said goodbye to your baby.
Evelyn Piazza 41:55
And then an organ donation person had approached us prior to this happening, and had said, would you consider donating his organs? And Tim always wanted to help people. Yeah, that's so he said, of course. But the only organs that weren't damaged were his kidneys. Everything else was damaged. So after, after they called the time of death. I had to sign paperwork. And, and we had to leave because they had to get them into an operating room so that they could harvest his kidney.
Karen Ortman 42:40
And then you're planning a funeral? For your child.
Evelyn Piazza 42:46
Yeah he just sent me no advance warning. Not like there was a sickness to be prepared for it wasn't It's not like a car accident where, you know, that's a risk of drunk driving. You know, it's just the rug was completely pulled out from under us. And now we're planning our son's funeral. And it turns out, the funeral director had been both of our boys' CCD teacher. So she, she knew both our boys,
Karen Ortman 43:25
Evelyn Piazza 43:25
So she, she wanted to make sure that she took care of everything. And our pastor insisted that we do the wake at the church because it needed to be big enough to hold all the people. And so we had the wake and as I understand it, they had to put like, kind of like the ribbon markers in the back of there. It was like a ride at Disney where you know, people are funneling in line and people were waiting outside of the church and peace people at the police We're directing traffic, because so many people came.
Jim Piazza 44:04
We went an hour longer and people still didn't get in.
Karen Ortman 44:08
That must have been special though. Like so many people came to honor him and remember him.
Evelyn Piazza 44:16
Yeah, the football team, the current football team, not even kids that he necessarily played with. The football team came with the coaches. Jim's work sent busloads of people. It was just, you know, how amazing
Karen Ortman 44:33
Were there people from Penn State?
Jim Piazza 44:38
Nobody from Penn State came. Nobody from the fraternity came. The person that is supposed to attend funerals at Penn State was, had a conflict. We were told,
Evelyn Piazza 44:54
and I guess nobody could fill in for them.
Jim Piazza 44:58
But I mean, we're told that there were 3000 people at the at the wake I mean it had news coverage. They had a shoo away the the news vans. Police blocked all the roads. I mean, it was
Karen Ortman 45:12
I do recall,
Jim Piazza 45:13
When the pastor told us have it at the church. I was like, What are you talking about? Like why do we have it at the church? I had no idea.
Evelyn Piazza 45:20
And I and this is where I knew and I said, Yeah, we need to have it at the church, because people will come.
Karen Ortman 45:26
Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure that there's many listeners who will recall hearing about this case, if not reading about it, particularly in the tri-state area. It was it was big news. So, Tim is gone, as a result of hazing for a fraternity. There was a an investigation you made reference several times. To an investigation and to court documents, you have information. Obviously you weren't there the night of February 2. So clearly there's information out there that that you've learned. And this is a case in the criminal justice system of Pennsylvania. Just through my own research, I discovered that there were 18 fraternity brothers charged. I believe eight were charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault. Some of those charges may have been later dropped. I believe I read for insufficient evidence. To the extent that you can share, and I'm sure you're very limited in what you can say, where does the criminal case stand right now?
Jim Piazza 47:01
So the most of the individuals have pled guilty to various forms of hazing or providing alcohol to minors, etc. Most have been given sentences.
Evelyn Piazza 47:22
It wasn't until some of the sentencing hearings. The judge would ask, do you have anything to say and normally their attorneys would say, No, you know, because of the civil litigation that we have. They wanted their clients to just stay quiet. Two of the defendants did make a statement to us and apologize, but that was at the sentencing hearing.
Karen Ortman 47:53
Okay. So Tim's case happened in February 2017. I know that there have been several other cases occurring around the country. There was a Chico State University case there was LSU. Ohio, Florida State amongst many others. All involving hazing. And I know that that, Jim, you, you and Evelyn have done a significant amount of outreach with respect to hazing to educate the public. So, based upon what you have learned and what you know from from Tim's story, we now have these other cases which I'm sure you're intimately familiar with. Can you speak to the inconsistency in criminal charges as it pertains hazing, particularly when it involves the death of the student.
Jim Piazza 49:08
Well, I mean, different states have or had different hazing laws. But you know hazing is kind of a catch-all there are so many other crimes that were committed in all these situations. You know, it's a matter of what charges stick and which ones don't. And the LSU situation there were there were some significant charges that that stuck beyond hazing because in Louisiana at the time, the penalty for hazing was $100, I think, but one of the individuals, you know, he he had to go to jail. He was he was charged with a felony. And I forget what - negligent homicide - and there was still very do in that case. Similarly in Florida State there were other charges that stuck beyond hazing in the Chico State situation, you know, the several individuals went to jail that was water intoxication, but you know, at the time the the hazing law was was weak in California but they ended up going to jail on other charges. And the mom of that individual got the California hazing law changed to make it more punitive, which is you know, what we're trying to do and on all these other states now. similarly, at Ohio University, there was a whole host of different charges in addition to hazing because they're using law is kind of weak.
Karen Ortman 50:49
So speaking of laws and speaking of positive changes, and I really even hate to use the word positive because you lost your son. Is there any positive change with respect to the laws that you are involved in? In Pennsylvania in New Jersey? Anything that you can speak to?
Jim Piazza 51:24
Yeah, yeah. So you know in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to start we were able to put through what we believe to be the nation's toughest hazing law. It brings in the felony element if there's death or significant injury, significant bodily injury to a person that took a while thankfully, we were able to get it through with with tremendous amount of help from the law firm that we have been working with. New Jersey has picked up on that and it is it has a law a bill in process right now that we've testified for, and the senator behind it, Kip Bateman is pressing for it. We've got the national fraternity and sorority organizations behind that bill as well. So we've got their support. I'm optimistic that that will go through. We are trying to advocate for law changes in a bunch of other states as well. We were helpful in getting Texas laws amended. But Ohio, Indiana, there's a whole host of other states that we're working with, with the National fraternity and sorority, oversight organizations, the NIC and the NPC. And, you know, at the national level we've been we've been down to Washington DC several times lobbying for a federal law. I'm both the the end all hazing And the recheck recheck is tied tothe Clery center Act, which would require certain amounts of reporting, but we didn't feel like that went far enough. So we worked with the NIC and the NPC to develop the end all hazing act is is about better transparency for individuals and parents when their children are trying to join organizations. And the elements of that end all hazing act are consistent with what's in the Pennsylvania law as it relates to universities reporting, and Louisiana now has that New Jersey we'll have that but it's so hard going state by state asking for this this transparency portion in the bill. We just wanted to get it done at the federal level and we've gotten great support so far from, from Congress people, and we're hopeful that we'll go through once, you know, they can move off of some of the more pressing things on their agenda.
Karen Ortman 54:10
And what about at Penn State?
Jim Piazza 54:12
So we had a lot of very tough conversations with the president of the university and with the trustees through the president of the university. But to his credit, I think he has tried to step up and he has tried to be a difference maker. He's worked with other university presidents, in particular, the Big 10 presidents. He introduced a national scorecard that they that they're trying to get universities to sign on to where that would be a mechanism of transparency for universities to report things. They've also put forth $5 million towards the Timothy J. Piazza, Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and they're in the fundraising efforts right now for that, basically, I think they put up the first $2 million and they're going to match the next $3 million in donations. So they're working on that fundraising and and we're in very close contact with them. And the center is really supposed to be the go-to center for fraternity and sorority matters. And, and doing research as to, you know, all kinds of things. Well, you know, do hazing laws make a difference, right? Why do people haze, those types of things?
Karen Ortman 55:34
So the center produces actionable data to give practitioners the evidence needed to enact meaningful change on their campuses.
Jim Piazza 55:43
That's right. Yeah, that's right. That's what I was gonna say.
Karen Ortman 55:49
Can you share with our listeners, any resources available for parents who may have lost children to hazing or maybe our seeking information with respect to hazing, out of just sheer concern, as we parents, you know, have a lot of concerns.
Evelyn Piazza 56:12
Well, I mean, I was gonna say for any parent who has it, a kid going into college and wants to join any organization be it Greek life, or marching band or sports, you know, check with the school, check to see if they have a scorecard. See what the past reports are for that organization. If there's no news, then that's good news, so to speak. But maybe you'll see that they had an alcohol violation or there was a sexual assault. And then maybe you'll sit down and say, Well, maybe that's not the organization for you to join. And it helps you make a more educated, informed decision about your future once you decide to join the organization. Go through all the channels, you can. Say, say your child's going to join Greek life and they want to join Beta Theta Pi at another school called Greek Life Office, talk to them, see if that's a good organization, call the national see if they've had any issues with that campus, see who the advisors are, maybe you can talk to the advisors. Talk to fellow students just see what the word on the street is. And for some schools, there's deferred recruitment, which we think is a good idea because it gives the student that breathing time for them to just get the lay of the land and see for themselves and hear for themselves. Maybe you know what the word is on certain groups.
Jim Piazza 57:47
The other thing I would add is if somebody experiences something, hopefully not the death of their child, but a situation where you know their child is being hazed or whatever feel free to reach out to us or one of the other families, we are easy to find. I have I've reached out to university presidents on situations like at Cornell, where there was a death recently. And, you know, I, I demanded that a proper investigation be done. I've reached out to prosecutors and had conversations with prosecutors. We're not going away. This is unfortunately, our life's work now. But if somebody is experiencing that, you know, just just reach out to us. Recently, we heard of friends that were sending their son off to University of Tennessee, and he told them he had to go back for Hell Week. Hell Week doesn't sound very good. So we reached out to the University of Tennessee President and Director of Greek life and said, How could that term even be used in these times you need to get on it, you need to do something about him. So we're easy to find if people want to reach us. The other thing is one of Tim's friends. Just recently, we released it, I think earlier this week, a, say a public service announcement that was put together by by a number of us parents. And one of Tim's friends is the one that pulled it together and edited it all nice. It's out there on YouTube, just just google parents united to stop hazing and you'll see the PSA that we put together.
Karen Ortman 59:22
I will definitely check it out.
Evelyn Piazza 59:24
And for parents who whose kids have been hazed, and they do become aware of it, contact the organization if it's in a national organization, contact the leadership, contact the school, contact the police department, contact the DA do everything you can to make sure that it's followed up on. Yeah. Use every resource you can.
Jim Piazza 59:50
Yeah, and and call any of us because it happens. It happens and nobody's invincible.
Karen Ortman 59:57
So one more question. What about Tim, when you think about him, makes you smile?
Evelyn Piazza 1:00:09
He was just so funny. Really. One time we were going out to dinner and we were meeting Jim. And I had Tim and his girlfriend in the car with me. And all of a sudden he turned around and said, I'm a delight. We laughed. We said, why he goes, I'm a delight. And we thought it was the funniest thing, but he was he was a delight. He was just, he was so funny.
Jim Piazza 1:00:38
I just think he was just a good guy. And like, I remember the people he had done an internship and when I talked to the people that he interned for was an engineering firm. I talked to the President of the organization who interviewed him. They were like he was he was mature beyond his years. He was such a great personality in our office. I personally miss throwing the football around with him on the beach. That was my thing with him. And and he always was like he wanted to be a protector of his friends. He wasn't a guy that would get into a fight. But if you were picking on somebody that was this friend, he would step in the middle of it and would defuse it and say you're not doing this. He's the guy. Love that.
Karen Ortman 1:01:22
Yeah, he's the guy that would have helped him. Tim Piazza in that 12 hour period and you two are raised a great, great kid. And I thank you so much for sharing his story and his life. And I'm gonna cry. How do I edit this out? Thank you for talking to me today and educating our listeners and for being vulnerable and so willing to share something that most people would have great difficulty discussing. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jim Piazza 1:02:12
We thank you for making a difference. It's important that the message is out there.
Evelyn Piazza 1:02:17
And thank you for asking about him.
Karen Ortman 1:02:19
Oh, my pleasure, and my youngest son was born around the same time as yours. So I feel your heartache. So thank you to my guests, Jim and Evelyn, and to our listeners for joining us today for this episode of You Matter. If any information presented today was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like and subscribe to You Matter! on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and Tune In.