15 Shots Killed Shelby Allen
What's perhaps more shocking is that the 17-year-old drank them at a friend's house, while the parents were home. Here, how her mom is fighting to make sure no other child dies this way
The "Safe Home" Hoax
Through interviews with local teens and parents, investigators learned that the house where Shelby died had a reputation as a "safe home." Says Benito: "Parents in the community told us that the parents allowed what they called 'responsible drinking.' [Parents like these] believe that underage drinking can be done safely; that even if teens overdo it, as they often do, as long as they are being chaperoned and not driving, nothing tragic will happen. They believe kids are going to experiment with drinking anyway, so it may as well happen at home, with adults present." (Jane's father told police he didn't allow other people's children to consume alcohol in his home, although he admitted he allowed his own underage children to drink in moderation.)
As they spoke with the police, the Allens were shocked to discover that although providing alcohol to a minor who was not one's own child was illegal in California, the state provided significant immunity to hosts in this situation through what was known as Civil Code Section 1714, which became law in 1978. When it was enacted, lawmakers felt that too many suits were being filed against deep-pocketed hosts - that guests were overindulging, which led to injury, and then refusing to assume blame. In a nutshell, the code says those who choose to drink too much are responsible for what happens, not those who provide the alcohol.
Currently, 23 states have some degree of social-host immunity that protects those who serve underage guests. At the time of Shelby's death, California was one of only a few states to provide social hosts with nearly full civil-lawsuit protection. It's a stance on responsibility that's totally reasonable, say many - including Patrick Beasley, the Redding attorney retained by the family who hosted Shelby Allen on the night she died.
"If I put a fifth of vodka in front of you, it's your choice [whether] to drink it and how much of it to drink," Beasley says. "Whether or not you abuse it has nothing to do with me."
"Not if the drinker is a kid," Debbie Allen counters. And more and more parents are beginning to agree. "Underage drinking is not a moral, constitutional, or cultural issue," says Cindy Schaider, executive director of the Casa Grande Alliance, a nonprofit drug- and alcohol-abuse prevention coalition in Arizona that, among other things, works to make social hosting for minors a punishable offense. "It's a health and safety issue. Communities are recognizing this, and thus the increased call for these social-host ordinances."
The goal of people who support social-host responsibility is simple: "Homeowners [or renters] can no longer claim they had no idea minors were drinking on their premises. These laws make residents culpable for any underage drinking that goes on in their home and/or any damage or injury that occurs as a result," says Anthony Wagner, policy and media strategist for the Institute for Public Strategies, a nonprofit public-health-and-safety advocacy group in San Diego. (Wagner has also helped shape and implement social-host ordinances.) "Adults need to understand why underage drinking is dangerous, and that serving liquor to someone under 21 isn't worth what it could end up costing you."