Eight more Penn State frat members arraigned

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BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Eight more members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Pennsylvania State University were arraigned Tuesday on charges in the February death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza.

Five of the eight are charged with tampering with evidence for attempting to cover up information as police investigated how Piazza, who fell down a flight of stairs at the fraternity on a booze-fueled pledge night, was left to languish for nearly 12 hours before anyone called for emergency help.

The others are charged with recklessly endangering another person, furnishing alcohol to minors, and hazing in connection with the death of Piazza, a sophomore engineering major from Lebanon, N.J.

“We were not going to leave any stone unturned until we knew the truth about Tim Piazza,” Stacy Parks Miller, Centre County district attorney, said before the 2:30 p.m. arraignments. “We learned it and we brought the appropriate charges, and this is not something we can tolerate in this community.”

Before the arraignments before Judge Thomas King Kistler, the eight defendants walked into the front of the courthouse quietly. One of them, Michael Angelo Schiavone,  appeared to be holding his mother’s hand. None of their lawyers commented.

Bail was set at $50,000 and they were released on their own recognizance.

Those arraigned Tuesday include Schiavone, 21, of Yardley; Lars Kenyon, 19, of Barrington, R.I.; Ed Gilmartin, 20, of Scranton; Ryan McCann, 21, of Pittsburgh; Lucas Rockwell, 21, of Bolling Air Force Base, D.C.; Braxton Becker, 20, of Niskayuna, N.Y.; Ryan Foster, 21, of Bedford, Mass.; and Joseph Ems Jr., 20, of Philadelphia.

A man who answered the phone at Kenyon’s house declined to comment. Calls to the others were not returned.

Parks Miller warned the defendants during the proceeding not to communicate with any of the witnesses, noting that Kenyon had sent texts to fellow fraternity member and witness Kordel Davis telling him no one liked him. Davis, a freshman from Exeter Township, urged members to call 911 the night Piazza fell but was rebuffed.

Last week, 10 members of the fraternity were arraigned, eight of them on charges including involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault. They include: Brendan Young, 21, of Malvern; Nicholas Kubera, 19, of Downingtown;  Joseph Sala, 19, of Erie; Michael Bonatucci, 19, of Woodstock, Ga.; Gary DiBileo, 21, of Scranton; Jonah Neuman, 19, of Nashville; Luke Visser, 19, of Encinitas, Calif; and Daniel Casey, 19, of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

Parker Yochim, 19, of Waterford; and Craig Heimer, 21, of Port Matilda, were arraigned on reckless endangerment, hazing and furnishing alcohol to minors.

Penn State announced last week that it also would begin disciplinary proceedings against the students and had placed graduation on hold for any who were scheduled to participate in commencement last weekend. The university would not say how many of the 18 students were due to graduate.

One of the students arraigned Tuesday — Becker — was arrested in mid-February on felony drug charges for allegedly selling large amounts of marijuana, according to court documents. 

News reports described him then as the Beta Theta Pi house manager.

Becker, a materials science and engineering major, was the target of an undercover investigation that began in November 2016, but the controlled ‘buys’ from a confidential informant continued through mid-February, according to Fox 43.

He also was charged with purchasing alcohol as a minor in Centre County in 2014 and completed a Youth Offender Program to have the charge dismissed. A charge of public drunkenness at the same time was dismissed. He plead guilty to a charge of purchasing alcoholic beverages as a minor in 2015.

Becker graduated in 2014 from Niskayuna High School in New York and was due to graduate from Penn State next year. His Facebook page lists his employment as Penn State Adventure Recreation, which runs yearlong outdoor trips, including ice climbing, fishing and hiking.

On April 25, the week before he was arrested in connection with Piazza’s death, Becker changed his Facebook cover to what appears to be a photo of him waterskiing and the caption, “ready to be out on the lake again.”

Three of the other 18 fraternity members also had faced previous charges in Centre County. Kenyon and Gilmartin were charged with purchasing alcohol as a minor, Kenyon in 2016 and Gilmartin in 2015. Both completed a youth offender program and the charge was dismissed.

Ems twice plead guilty to purchase of alcohol by a minor in 2014 and in 2015, and in 2016, he plead guilty to criminal mischief and public drunkenness. Ems also was busted in 2015 by Wildwood, N.J., police for entering a liquor establishment, according to a list in the Cape May County Herald. He was 18 at that time.

Kenyon, according to his Facebook page, studies aerospace engineering at Penn State. He attended Barrington High School, and photos on his page show a young man in lacrosse gear, suggesting he played.

Schiavone describes himself as a junior and a finance major at Penn State, according to his Linked In and Facebook entries.

He’s a graduate of Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, where he played ice hockey, and was a treasurer of the National Art Honor Society. He says he’s studying potential career paths in investment banking, sales, trading, and wealth management and participates in the Penn State Investment Association.

Available information on the others was limited. McCann is studying petroleum and natural gas energy at Penn State, while Rockwell is a business major and Foster studies energy business and finance.

The university permanently banned Beta Theta Pi in the wake of Piazza’s death, citing forced drinking, hazing, and other illegal activity.

Piazza died on Feb. 4, two days after he fell, having suffered a non-recoverable brain injury, ruptured spleen and collapsed lung.

“We’re devastated by the loss of our son …,” Piazza’s father, Jim, said at a press conference last week where authorities announced the charges. “This did not have to happen. No parent should have to go through this.”

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