Stranger helped, but too late for drunken teen

August 14, 1991|By Maureen McNeill | Maureen McNeill,Special to The Sun Mary Knudson of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

SALISBURY -- Kevin Maynard found Brian Ball lying in the wet grass last Friday night outside a house where a drinking party was in full swing. He took Brian into the garage to get him out of the rain and looked into his eyes.

What he saw, he said yesterday, was Brian's eyes "flipping into the back of his head."

Kevin, 16, said that he and another boy then took Brian, 15, to Peninsula General Hospital Medical Center. Brian was vomiting, so Kevin said he and paramedics outside the hospital laid Brian on his side. After the paramedics put Brian on a stretcher and took him inside the hospital, Kevin said, he and his friend left.

Brian Christopher Ball died two days later at the hospital. The cause of death in the still-preliminary state medical examiner's report is alcohol poisoning and asphyxiation.

Brian had been one of about 200 teen-agers who paid $3 for all the beer they could drink and 50 cents each for shots of hard liquor. Brian may have spent more than $15 all told -- the price of the 26 shots he is believed to have consumed.

The party was held just outside the Salisbury city limits at the home of a teen-age boy who acted without his parents' permission or knowledge. Kevin Maynard said that the party was not especially wild, but "everybody was trashed." He said that he didn't know who Brian was when he found him and that he could not find any identification.

The state police, who on Monday had given a slightly different version of events, yesterday confirmed Kevin Maynard's version of that night. After Brian was brought into the hospital, he was admitted into its intensive care unit, where his blood alcohol content was measured at .37, a level generally considered to be lethal, police said.

It is not clear how long it had been since Brian was passed out in the grass at the house. That time, however, may have been crucial in whether he lived or died, according to Dr. John Sullivan, internist and clinical pharmacologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"He would have been OK if he had gone [immediately] into a hospital," Dr. Sullivan said. Then, if he had stopped breathing in the hospital, he could have been put on an artificial respirator that would breathe for him until he started breathing on his own again, Dr. Sullivan said. He may have needed only one to two hours on the respirator, he said.

Death from alcohol overdose occurs when the respiratory center in the brain stem that leads from the brain to the spinal cord quits working, Dr. Sullivan explained. The artificial respirator would have taken over the lung function until enough alcohol had been metabolized by the body so that the brain's own respiratory center could start working again, he said.

The money that Brian used for the party Friday night was supposed to be for going to see "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."

"I even gave him money," sad his mother, Janice Ball. "I'll probably never forgive myself. He had $20 on him and I know it didn't take half that much to kill him."

When she reflected on what she was saying, Mrs. Ball paused and said, "I can't think like that."

Brian and his family had been visiting his mother's relatives in Salisbury. They were scheduled to return to their home near Trenton, Texas, yesterday. Instead, the family spent the evening at a funeral home.

His mother described Brian as being "like any normal teen-ager." He was an honor roll student, was known and liked in his hometown and held the distinction of ranking in the top 10 among green-belt karate students in Texas. "He's the kind of son that every mother wants," Mrs. Ball said. "I was lucky enough to RTC have him for 15 years."

She was remarkably composed and even philosophical about the events that led to her son's death. "He's a teen-ager and that's the time you try yourself," she said. "He tried the wrong thing this time."

His father, also named Brian Ball, said his son may have suffered from a teen-age affliction -- a feeling of immortality. "I think he probably, as most children in that age bracket, felt he was indestructible," he said.

Mrs. Ball said she was sure her son had never drunk liquor before Friday night, but conceded that most mothers don't really know what their teen-agers are doing. She made sure he knew what dangers existed for him, and added that he had "all the information on alcohol, drugs, sex and AIDS. We've had all those talks," she said.

Many of the teen-agers who were at Friday's party have since Brian's death come by the home of Mrs. Ball's parents to offer condolences. She said she was impressed by their courage at coming forward and said she did not hold them accountable for Brian's death.

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