Police have charged 18 fraternity members over the death of a 19-year-old Pennsylvania State University student who died after consuming toxic levels of alcohol in a fraternity ritual.

Timothy Piazza suffered fatal injuries when he fell down a set of stairs with his friends failing to get help for him for many hours, authorities claim.

Piazza, from New Jersey, fell multiple times during a Beta Theta Pi pledge party at the university and died two days after being taken to hospital on 4 February this year.

A grand jury investigation revealed that the budding sportsman was taking part in a ritual known as "the gauntlet" where students are urged into drinking vodka, beer and wine whilst playing beer pong.

Eight men were charged with involuntary manslaughter: Brendan Young, president of the Beta Theta Pi chapter, and fellow fraternity members Daniel Casey, Jonah Neuman, Nick Kubera, Michael Bonatucci, Gary DiBileo, Luke Visser and Joe Sala.

Ten other members of the fraternity were indicted on lesser charges of hazing, aggravated and simple assault, alcohol-related violations and evidence tampering on Friday (5 May).

"The Penn State Greek community nurtured an environment so permissive of excessive drinking and hazing," a grand jury presentment said. "That it emboldened its members to repeatedly act with reckless disregard to human life."

"Timothy Piazza died as a direct result of the extremely reckless conduct of members of the Beta Fraternity who operated within the permissive atmosphere fostered by the Pennsylvania State University Interfraternity Council," the presentment read.

Fell down basement stairs

It was stated that Piazza fell multiple times during the night but none of the frat members contacted emergency services.

After his first fall, he was moved to a sofa where he was monitored by other students.

In his last fall, he fell down basement stairs where he remained until he was discovered the next morning, around 12 hours later.

Students eventually contacted emergency services and he was taken to hospital where he died two days later having suffered a non-recoverable head injury, ruptured spleen and a collapsed lung.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that of one frat member's mobile phones was analysed by police and and showed a series of internet searches that included "falling asleep after head injury", "true or false, a person with a serious head injury or concussion should be kept awake", and "binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands".

Defense attorneys argue that the students did not know Piazza was in danger thinking he was just drunk and would sleep it off.

President of Penn State, Eric Barron, said the university had brought in new stricter rules for fraternities after the incident.

"The details alleged in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible," he said. "The university community continues to mourn his tragic death, but no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy's family and friends are experiencing.

"The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand."