Teen's drinking death fails as warning to others 6 months later, partying persists on Eastern Shore

February 20, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Eastern Shore Bureau of The Sun

SALISBURY -- Brian Ball's death from alcohol poisoning six months ago may have sobered up some teen-agers for a while, but drinking is still a way of life on weekends here.

"It's really very, very hard to stop it," said Jack English, a student at Wicomico Senior High School here. "If there's a party of any size, there's going to be alcohol there. If a few people get together, there's going to be some drinking."

Parents and educators had hoped the death of Brian C. Ball, who drank as many as 26 shots of liquor at a party attended by nearly 200 youths at a house outside Salisbury Aug. 9, would shock many teen-agers into thinking twice before turning to alcohol for entertainment.

Brian, a 15-year-old Boy Scout and honor student back in his hometown of Trenton, Texas, was visiting relatives in Salisbury when he went to the party with a cousin. Party-goers, who had no adult chaperones, were offered all the beer they could consume for $3, and shots of liquor for 50 cents each.

According to police and students at the party, Brian drank until he passed out. He was taken to Peninsula General Hospital Medical Center, where he died two days later of acute alcohol intoxication.

But if there was a lesson to be learned from Brian's death, it may have been that one fatality is not enough to bring an end to the weekend parties.

"Zoom, zoom, zoom," said Wicomico Principal Thomas B. Field, describing the sound of cars carrying teen-agers as they pass his house at the edge of Salisbury every weekend and head toward a wooded area known as Devil's Woodyard, a drinking spot popular among local youths.

"I've come to the conclusion that they're not going to wake up," Mr. Field said. "It will take some sort of catastrophic event to wake them up, but even with that, I don't think it will happen."

Mr. English, 18, president of the high school student government, said some students reacted to Brian's death by drinking less or by agreeing not to drive when they've consumed alcohol.

"They're still doing it, but it's like instead of putting a fully loaded gun to their heads, now they only put two or three bullets in it."

Mr. Field said yesterday he was "encouraged" to learn that Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis Ruark and state juvenile services officials had decided to take legal action against those minors who drank at the party last August.

But he also said he was unconvinced that the punishment would be felt at all levels of responsibility.

"I firmly believe that we need to send a message," he said. "The message has to be sent to the parents. The biggest problem is that kids don't know where the limits are because the parents haven't told them."

At least one parent of a teen-ager who was at the party said she was not looking forward to legal action that might be taken against her son, a 16-year-old who helped drive Brian to the hospital.

"Being his parent and knowing what he went through afterwards, I would like to see this whole thing dropped," said Wanda Disharoon. "I'm really torn between this. This is knocking me for a loop -- but I don't think the kids should be getting away with this either."

Mr. English said many of his classmates continue to drink because they have not had to face the consequences of the illegal -- and often life-threatening -- activity. He said legal action disclosed yesterday could have a positive effect.

"I think this will be the most influential thing that's happened," he said, adding that local authorities may yet get the attention of teen-agers by treating them sternly.

"They need to react harsher and quicker. The only thing some of these kids around here understand is a slap in the face," he said.

"The only thing some of these kids around here understand is a slap in the face."

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