Kordel Davis, one of two Pennsylvania State University fraternity members who told investigators they wanted to call for emergency help the night Tim Piazza fatally fell, had firsthand experience with the dangers of drinking too much.
During his pledge night, in the fall semester, Davis got drunk, fell, and bled profusely from his head. Beta Theta Pi members, Davis told investigators, circled him, got him up, and took him to an emergency care facility.
Piazza wasn’t so fortunate when he fell during the Feb. 2 bid acceptance night. It wasn’t until nearly 12 hours later that anyone called 911 to get help — and by then, it was too late. He died, having suffered a non-recoverable head injury, ruptured spleen, and collapsed lung.
“I was manipulated into thinking everything was going to be fine,” Davis said on Good Morning America on Monday, referring to the pushback he received from other fraternity members when he suggested that Piazza needed medical help. “Don’t let people change your thoughts. Don’t let people manipulate you into not taking action.”
Eight members of the fraternity were charged Friday with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and other offenses in Piazza’s death, and 10 others were charged with hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, and other offenses. Ten members were arraigned Friday, and the other eight are scheduled for arraignment Tuesday.
A grand jury presentment, buttressed by extensive video surveillance footage taken from the fraternity house, gives a minute-by-minute account of the harrowing 11-plus hours from Piazza’s initial fall until a call for emergency help was placed the next morning. It also documented attempts by Davis, a freshman, and fellow fraternity member Greg Rizzo, a marketing major, to get Piazza help.
Neither Rizzo nor Davis was charged in the case.
“Overdramatic,” one fraternity member told Rizzo when he sent a computer message at 2:19 a.m. warning that Piazza needed to go to the hospital.
Another fraternity member shoved Davis against a wall and told him they “had it under control” and he should leave, according to the presentment.
Attempts to reach Davis were unsuccessful. According to his LinkedIn page, he is a graduate of Exeter Township Senior High School in Reading, where he played football and received academic scholarships to attend Penn State. He works at Penn State’s Berkey Creamery.
Rizzo’s attorney, Matt McClenahen, declined comment and said his client does not wish to discuss the case.
Both Davis and Rizzo recounted for investigators abuses that occurred during their own initiations into the fraternity during fall semester.
During “Hell Week,” Davis said, pledges had to run to their dorm rooms and back in 20 minutes. They were required to perform a “crate race” in the basement, during which groups of pledges competed to finish three to four types of alcohol in a crate. In a third event, they were instructed to drink something called “mush,” a mixture of old food and drinks from the refrigerator. And then they were blindfolded and paddled.
If he had refused to participate, he told investigators, it could have affected his pledge ranking and whether he could live in the fraternity house.
On that bid acceptance night, the fraternity held the same drinking ritual as it did the night of Piazza’s accident, called “the Gauntlet,” in which members had to guzzle vodka, beer, and wine and then participate in a social, he told investigators. Davis, however, missed the Gauntlet because he had an exam. But when he arrived later, fraternity members told him to “catch up,” according to the court documents.
At 20, Rizzo was the oldest of 29 pledges. He recalled having to perform agility tests and said pledges drank large amounts of alcohol during Hell Week.
Before the paddling, pledges walked in with pillowcases over their heads and were asked if they would walk over broken glass for their fraternity. They then walked on potato chips. They also drank tomato juice with Tabasco sauce, symbolic of members’ blood, and Gatorade, symbolic of members’ urine. Then came the paddle.
Rizzo described the events as “a mind game.”
The night Piazza fell, Rizzo told investigators he heard the sound and went to the top of the basement stairs. He saw Piazza lying at the bottom, face down.
At 10:47 p.m., Rizzo was one of four fraternity members who carried Piazza’s limp body up the stairs and placed him on a couch. While Piazza was unconscious, Rizzo removed Piazza’s shirt and rubbed his sternum. Then he poured liquid on him. Piazza did not stir.
At 11:53 p.m., Rizzo wrote to fellow fraternity members: “Also Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”
Rizzo told investigators that he and his roommate, Gary DiBileo, advocated calling an ambulance but that member Ryan Foster, who was charged with tampering with evidence, told him Piazza would be fine and that this was typically what happened on bid acceptance night.
DiBileo was charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, and other offenses.
As for Davis’ part, he entered the room where Piazza was on the couch at 11:14 p.m., nearly a half-hour after the fall. The video shows him observing Piazza and becoming “very animated.” Davis recounted for investigators that he saw Piazza “thrashing and making weird movements.” He told investigators he was concerned Piazza could have a concussion and should go to a hospital. He said he screamed at members to do something, and that’s when member Jonah Neuman, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and other offenses in the case, shoved him against a wall and told him to leave.
He then sought out fraternity vice president Ed Gilmartin, who was charged with tampering with evidence, and said Gilmartin also brushed him off.
Davis has a scar above his left eye from the fall he took on his pledge night.
Now, he’ll carry Piazza’s death with him, too.
“This was a preventable tragedy,” he told Good Morning America.