SALISBURY -- In the often-secret world of teen-age drinking, friends can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Fifteen-year-old Brian C. Ball desperately needed a friend Friday night when he downed a fatal dose of alcohol at a teen-age party outside Salisbury on the Eastern Shore, eyewitnesses said.
Brian, visiting from Texas, lacked the usual safety net of buddies to stop him from drinking too much liquor and to watch over him closely when he became sick, said David, 18, an eyewitness who did not want his last name revealed.
Brian supposedly took as many as 26 shots of liquor, partygoers told police and reporters. Brian passed out and lay in a garage for "no more than an hour" before some youths dumped him outside a hospital and fled, David said.
"No one was helping him," David said. "They were out there laughing at him. They pulled his wallet out and they opened it up. There was some change, and someone stuck it in their pocket."
"No one knew him because he was from out of town. There was no one to watch over him," said Blair Rinnier, 18, who also was at the party.
Brian, a Boy Scout, honor student and green belt in karate from a small Texas town, came to Salisbury to visit relatives. His mother, Janice H. Ball, told WBAL Radio that her son had never before drunk alcohol.
That night, Brian received his initiation to alcohol at an "all-you-can-drink" party at the home of Ralph G. Lynch on Old Ocean City Road, Maryland State Police said. Lynch was out of town and unaware of his son's party, where teens charged $3 per person plus 50 cents for shots from half-gallon bottles of rum and vodka, police said.
News of the party spread by word of mouth among teen-agers.
Despite heavy rains, some 200 people under Maryland's legal drinking age of 21 turned out and crammed themselves into the two-story white house across from a cornfield. Beer, liquor and rap music flowed plentifully, witnesses said.
David said he arrived at about 9:30 p.m. and made his way into the home's crowded basement, where a bar had been set up.
David said he saw Brian take one shot and stagger. "People were teasing him and laughing because he was drunk," he said.
Some people took Brian outside and left him lying on the ground in the pouring rain, David said. "They were afraid he would throw up in the house," he explained.
Some minutes later, a few guys carried Brian into the garage to get him out of the rain, David said; by this time, Brian was "out cold."
No one realized the seriousness of the boy's condition at the time.
"No one really cared. No one thought he would die," David said.
Later, several youths took Brian to Peninsula General Hospital Medical Center in Salisbury, and one ran inside to alert the staff that someone needed help, State Police said.
The car then took off, probably because its occupants feared they would get in trouble for drinking, according to several teens who attended the party.
Nurses found Brian dumped on the ground outside the emergency room. Meanwhile, the party ended with the arrival of a Wicomico County deputy sheriff investigating a complaint about a large party from a neighbor at 10:37 p.m.
Brian, who was unconscious and not breathing, had a blood alcohol level of 0.37 percent.
A lethal blood alcohol level is believed to be above 0.25 or 0.35 percent, said Dr. John Sullivan, director of the chemical dependency unit at Francis Scott Key Medical Center in Baltimore.
Brian died at Peninsula General Sunday evening. State medical examiners said "acute alcohol intoxication" caused his accidental death.
State Police spokesmen said yesterday that no criminal charges have been filed, and the investigation is continuing. Police said they believe a teen asked an adult to purchase the alcohol Friday on U.S. 13 for a small fee, but they have not found the adult yet.
Besides persuading strangers to buy alcohol for them, some under-age youths pick up alcohol themselves at country stores that do not request identification, said Mark Lynch, 19, who attended the party and is not related to Ralph Lynch. "It's really easy."
The Ball family declined to speak with reporters yesterday, although Brian's mother told WBAL Radio: "I don't have any anger. Right now, all I am feeling is an emptiness and there's an ache I know won't go away."
Young Brian lived with his sister, Catherine, and parents, Brian and Janice Ball, about four miles outside the small farming town of Trenton, Texas, home to about 800 people.
Brian was in the program for talented and gifted students at Trenton High School and a member of a 4-H organization.
"This town is just in mourning," said Tom M. Holmes, editor of the Trenton Tribune. "It's a small town and everyone knows everyone. You know good and bad about our fellow citizens. This boy and his family were tops. What happened, I have no earthly idea."
Holmes said Brian, who would have entered 10th grade this fall, was not the sort to drink. "This boy didn't fool around with this drinking crowd," he said. "This is completely off-course from anything he had been known to do."
The Trenton area, he said, is "dry as a bone" because the sale of liquor is illegal, and drinking parties are unheard of.
In Salisbury, the death has scared a lot of teens, particularly younger, inexperienced ones like Brian, Mark Lynch said.
"It shows you you're not as invincible as you thought you were," Rinnier said.