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 Legal Loophole
Shelby's death compelled Debbie Allen to research what had killed her. "I learned that the party culture had drastically changed since I partied as a teen," she explains. "Kids are drinking differently, and aren't being taught that the way they are drinking can kill them." But what shocked Debbie the most was learning that more and more parents were participating in this dangerous drinking culture by allowing minors to have access to alcohol. Says Debbie: "Shelby lied to us about her whereabouts so she could go to a house where she could 'have fun' experimenting with illegal drinking. She made poor choices, but these poor choices should not have led to her death. Shelby should have known better...we all should have. I get it now."
Increasingly, parents who "get" the dangers of underage drinking have had it with parents who don't. Twenty-seven states now have social-host laws on the books. Richard Campbell, a trial lawyer with expertise in social-host cases, knows just how wrong teen drinking can go. He cites a case in Easthampton, MA, in 2007, in which Alexis Garcia, 15, and her best friend shared a bottle of vodka that the pal had received from her dad as a gift. After the two downed it, Lexi went upstairs to take a shower and sober up. She was found facedown in the tub, drowned. He recalls 17-year-old Meaghan Duggan, who, while drinking at a house party in the basement of a close friend's North Andover, MA, home, tripped on a step, suffered a skull fracture, and died as intoxicated underage partiers repeatedly stepped over her body, while the father of the household was fully aware of the underage drinking going on.
As shocking as these cases are, the state often can't file criminal charges, which could lead to jail sentences, against the hosts. Campbell calls civil action, which may provide financial compensation, "the only recourse parents who have lost a child may have. But most of my clients who seek civil damages do so not for the money - most don't care if they ever see a penny. They do it to send a message, to deter other parents who are tempted to throw these kinds of 'safe' drinking parties."