Their son gone, parents warn others of alcohol threat

May 22, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

Jan and Brian Ball want other parents to think carefully about the death of their only son, a good kid who made a terrible mistake last August.

The Balls traveled from their small Texas town to Baltimore to film public-service ads about the dangerous drug that killed their 15-year-old -- alcohol.

"There's a misperception that parents have that underage drinking is a 'bad kid' problem," Mr. Ball said.

Brian Christopher Ball, a Boy Scout and honor student, downed a fatal dose of liquor at a teen-age "all-you-can-drink" party outside Salisbury on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where he was visiting relatives.

His death made headlines around the country and turned his soft-spoken parents into activists.

Before filming the television spots at Spicer Productions in Woodlawn yesterday, the Balls, who live in Trenton, not far from the Oklahoma border in northeast Texas, spoke with composure about their loss.

They want others to realize that their children, no matter how smart or responsible, can fall victim to an alcohol overdose or to a drinking-related accident, pregnancy or other danger.

Many "good kids" drink to fit into a larger group, Mr. Ball said, perhaps because they are considered to be "eggheads" or the like. Although he had "book learning" about drinking,

Brian had no experience. The drinking party he attended was his first, his parents said.

"We didn't have that chance to take our child aside after his first party and take that opportunity to change his behavior," Mr. Ball said.

The Balls had spoken to Brian about alcohol, but Mr. Ball said yesterday he wished now they talked when Brian was much younger, before he became vulnerable to teen-age peer pressure. The couple already has had talks with their 8-year-old daughter.

Representatives from U.S. Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello's office joined the Balls in Woodlawn yesterday. They called for tougher state drinking laws and for better alcohol education for children and parents.

Winnie Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Dr. Novello, said more states should pass laws that would penalize underage drinkers by suspending their driver's licenses or delaying their ability to get a license when they turn 16.

She also lobbied for laws that would hold parents liable for the consequences of teen drinking parties in their home and that would permit lawsuits against people who provide alcohol to minors.

Maryland has no such laws.

Dr. Neil Solomon, who chairs Gov. William Donald Schaefer's Drug and Alcohol Commission, said he would ask the governor (( to introduce legislation to take driver's licenses away from underage drinkers, even if driving was not involved.

The General Assembly has killed similar bills in the past.

The Balls said they hope parents will heed their public service announcements, which were produced by the Maryland chapter of the International Television Association. The four TV spots will be made available to stations around the country.

Mrs. Ball also offered parents the following advice:

*Call schools to see if they provide drug education.

*Find out if the police and courts treat teen-age alcohol offenses seriously and inform parents of problems.

*Talk to children before they reach their teens about the dangers of alcohol by itself, as well as about drinking-and-driving.

*Watch television with your children. Every time you see a sports hero or role model drinking alcohol, tell your kids not to drink until they reach adulthood.

*Be responsible for your children -- don't leave them alone for a weekend. They could hold a drinking party like the one Brian attended.

Most of all, the Balls said, don't think it can't happen in your community. "There are a number of people who believe Brian's )) death may have been an isolated case," Mr. Ball said. "The fact of the matter is that it wasn't."

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