Sprawling Penn State hazing death case grinds through courts

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The sprawling criminal case against former members of a Penn State fraternity over the death of a pledge last year is about to pick up steam with yet another preliminary hearing on the horizon, as well as the first sentencing.

Twenty-five members of shuttered Beta Theta Pi face charges related to the February 2017 death of Tim Piazza, who was fatally injured in a series of falls during a night of drinking and hazing after participating in a pledge bid acceptance ceremony. A 26th defendant has pleaded guilty.

The case has, so far, produced three multiday preliminary hearings, rulings by two different magisterial district judges to throw out charges, a decision by the attorney general's office to take over the prosecution and a pending legislative effort to toughen Pennsylvania's anti-hazing law.

MORE: Judge tosses involuntary manslaughter charges in Penn State frat death | Deleted footage recovered, 10 more charged in Penn State frat death

Piazza, a 19-year-old engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, participated in a series of drinking stations the night of Feb. 2, 2017, as well as a basement event involving rapid consumption of alcohol. The house's elaborate video security system recorded him stumbling to a couch on the first floor before falling down the steps. He was carried back upstairs, and spent the night in evident pain, most of it on the couch as fraternity brothers took ineffective and even harmful steps to address his condition.

After he was found unconscious in the basement the next morning, it took his friends about 40 minutes to summon an ambulance, and he later died at a hospital. Medical experts say he suffered a fractured skull and shattered spleen, and his blood-alcohol level has been estimated to have peaked at three or four times the legal limit for driving.

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