Death of NJ college student prompts bill to boost hazing penalty
A tragedy in Pennsylvania could lead to a new law in New Jersey increasing the penalties for hazing.
In February 2017, a 19-year-old college student from Readington, Timothy Piazza, died following a hazing ritual at a Penn State University fraternity. Pennsylvania’s legislature has been advancing a bill responding to the incident, named for Piazza, and now state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman has introduced a similar bill in Trenton.
Bateman, R-Somerset, proposes to increase hazing to a fourth-degree crime in New Jersey and aggravated hazing – in which serious bodily injury is caused – to a third-degree crime. The bill also specifies that prohibited conduct includes forcing someone to consume alcohol or drugs.
“They lost their son, who was an incredible athlete, incredible student, really because they weren’t responsible at the fraternity,” Bateman said. “It was over drinking, the hazing – there was too much hazing. He could have been saved. I’m trying to make it stronger, put some teeth in the state, to prevent it from happening again.”
Video from the fraternity, which has since been disbanded, showed people ignoring Piazza despite his unconscious condition.
“People, unfortunately, if one or two had called for help, he’d still be alive,” Bateman said.
Bateman was inspired to introduce the bill after getting a letter urging him to do so by a 12-year-old neighbor, Matthew Prager, the younger brother of one of Tim’s closest friends.
Piazza’s parents worked with Bateman on the bill and plan to meet with the senator soon to recommend ways to improve the bill, the senator said.
“Parents send their children to college. They’re always obviously anxious about it. And when something like this happens, it just reinforces the fact that we need to be I think more vigilant on the laws and make certain that it doesn’t happen again.”
The bill has bipartisan sponsorship between the Senate and Assembly. Bateman hopes it is passed by the end of this year or early next year.