BELLEFONTE, Pa. – As 19-year-old Tim Piazza lay dying in a hospital after a night of hazing at Pennsylvania State University fraternity, the pledge master at Beta Theta Pi sent a text message to his girlfriend.
"It's over. I don't want to go to jail for this," Danny Casey wrote.
The text was among a series of messages introduced Monday as prosecutors resumed the preliminary hearing for 16 of the 18 frat members charged in connection with Piazza's hazing and death during an alcohol-soaked bid night in February.
The hearing began last month but it was continued after the prosecution's evidence — which included the first public viewing of gruesome surveillance footage from inside the fraternity house — lasted 11 hours.
Monday's hearing could give defense attorneys the first chance to whittle away at the district attorney's accusations that the boys essentially left Piazza, a sophomore from Lebanon, N.J., to die in their house after a night of hazing.
Prosecutors say Beta Theta Pi members got Piazza dangerously drunk on Feb. 2 — at one point he was estimated to have had a blood alcohol level between .28 and .36 percent. After he twice fell down a flight of stairs, they did not call for help. Only the next morning did they seek medical attention; Piazza died the following day.
His death and the unusual charges against the fraternity members have ignited a new level of scrutiny on reckless college drinking.
State College Police Detective Dave Scicchitano testified Monday that one frat member, Gary DiBileo, told police he and another, Greg Rizzo, said aloud after Piazza's first fall that they should call 911. Instead, others said it should be a group decision — one that didn't happen until the next morning.
On the day Piazza was taken to the hospital, a text from DiBileo to Rizzo seemed to signal the trouble they knew they were in: "It's not the fact that he drank. He drank because we hazed him too. Main word being hazed."
As they did last month, Piazza's parents, Jim and Evelyn, again took front-row seats in the courtroom for the hearing, which could span two days.
Charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault are: Brendan Young, 21, of Malvern, fraternity president; Casey, 19, of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., pledge master; Nick Kubera, 19, of Downingtown; DiBileo, 21, of Scranton; Luke Visser, 19, of Encinitas, Calif.; Joe Sala, 19, of Erie; Michael Bonatucci, 19, of Woodstock, Ga.; and Jonah Neuman, 19, of Nashville. Ten others face lesser charges.