News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 16, 2012

Officials drawing attention to Lifeline Law

AG Zoeller, Sen. Merritt tout alcohol-related death prevention effort at ISU

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star


The new Indiana Lifeline Law — spearheaded by college students from several Indiana campuses — is aimed at preventing alcohol-related deaths among minors.

Yet awareness of the new law is lacking across state university campuses. In an effort to spread the word, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, made a stopover Monday at Indiana State University.

“More than two dozen Hoosier students under the age of 21 have lost their lives to alcohol poisoning since 2004,” Merritt said at Hulman Memorial Student Union.

“Unfortunately, the fact is, many of these deaths could have been prevented if bystanders or actual friends sought medical attention immediately for the victims.

“Indiana’s Lifeline Law encourages students to do just that — make the call to save a life,” Merritt said.

Indiana’s Lifeline Law, effective as of July 1, protects underage people, who seek to help others in need of alcohol-related medical attention, from being prosecuted for alcohol offenses such as possession of alcohol by a minor or public intoxication.

Merritt, a main sponsor of the law, said students from campuses such as Indiana University, Purdue University, DePauw and University of Southern Indiana pushed the issue to be part of Indiana law. Indiana University had an agreement with Bloomington police, Merritt said, that was similar to the new state law.

“Underage drinking is an issue that we need to continue to work on,” Merritt said. However, if “there is a party or social gathering and there is an individual who is overserved, so much so that their individual health is in a dire situation, those that cooperate, not just the caller, but those who cooperate and stay with the ill patient and talk with the police officer and make sure that person gets the care that he or she needs, they are granted immunity,” Merritt said.

Zoeller said the law allows for a defense, however it is an “affirmative defense,” meaning the person calling 911 or helping emergency personnel has to show they called or helped an intoxicated person.

“It is like an alibi defense. You show you have an alibi and here you show you called 911 or helped the person. The 911 recordings made will help in that,” Zoeller said.

However, since the law went into effect, Brett R. Finbloom, 18, a graduate of Carmel High School, died Aug. 5 of alcohol poisoning, Merritt said, after a pre-college party with friends.

“We believe, it is not fact, we believe that the kids [at the party] did not know the Lifeline Law existed,” Merritt said. “They did not call 911 for 30 to 45 minutes and since the kids were playing dumb, if you will, they didn’t feel like they could say that Brett Finbloom was drinking a half bottle of vodka, so the physicians couldn’t save him because they didn’t know what he had been drinking,” Merritt said.

“What is happening is kids panic and don’t really know which way is up. We don’t want them to panic. Just because someone made a mistake, they should not pay for it with their life,” Merritt said.

Merritt added the law is not an excuse for excessive drinking.

“We do not want to give incentives for drinking to excess, to binge drinking. That is a problem on our college campuses today,” Merritt said. “We do not want to say you can binge drink and not get into trouble. There will be a situation for that.”

Zoeller said prosecutors under the state law are sensitive that medical help may be needed for alcohol or even a mixture of alcohol and drugs. “When you see your friend in trouble, call for help,” he said.

Zoeller said it will take students and student leadership on campuses such as Indiana State University “to talk to their friends and neighbors and spread the word … to look out after each other and use the Indiana Lifeline Law when necessary.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.