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Judge rules that Penn State can buy fraternity house where student fatally hurt

Matt Rourke

Penn State can buy a former fraternity house where a student was fatally injured during a night of drinking and hazing, a judge has ruled.

Centre County Judge Brian Marshall gave the university and the Beta Theta Pi fraternity’s national chapter six months to negotiate a deal, the Centre Daily Times reported Thursday. The purchase price could be determined by arbitrators if the two can’t reach an agreement.

Marshall issued the ruling Tuesday, about two months after a three-day trial was held. A Penn State spokesperson said the university was “very pleased” with the decision, The university had cited a 1928 deed that it claimed gave the school the right to force the sale of the house because it’s no longer used as a fraternity.

Lawyers for the national fraternity did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment from the newspaper.

Penn State had banned the fraternity's campus chapter in March 2017, after the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza of Lebanon, New Jersey. Piazza died after getting drunk and falling several times on a night in February 2017 while seeking to join the fraternity.

Investigators concluded Piazza had had at least 18 drinks in under two hours. A security system recorded much of what happened before and after he fell down basement steps, had to be carried back upstairs, and spent the evening and ensuing night on a first-floor couch, showing signs of severe pain.

Piazza suffered severe head and abdominal injuries, but help was not summoned until the next morning. He died at a hospital.

His death prompted Penn State to ban the fraternity and Pennsylvania state lawmakers to pass legislation making the most severe forms of hazing a felony, requiring schools to maintain policies to combat hazing, and allowing the confiscation of frat houses where hazing has occurred.

The fraternity house has been used sporadically since spring 2017, typically by fraternity alumni during home football weekends or other special events.

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