Miramonte Student Sparks New CA Legislation

Alex Seclow

Senior Caroline Cook writes about Joe Loudon’s death and ignites Assembly Bill 1999

Last year, Caroline Cook, a Miramonte junior at the time, wrote an article titled “‘911 immunity laws’ for underage drinkers” in response to fellow student Joe Louden’s death. The article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 18, 2010.

Clearly distraught by Joe’s death, and wanting to make sure it didn’t happen to someone else, Cook made a plea to the powers that be. Her article concludes that Joe’s death was preventable with the right laws in place. She writes, “There was alcohol at the party where Joe died. The coroner found that he had been drinking – though not enough to be legally drunk – but didn’t determine a cause of death. A lot of people in town believe that Joe died, at least in part, because other underage drinkers at the party were reluctant to call 911 for fear of being punished.”

Within a year of Cook’s article being published, new legislation, Assembly Bill 1999, a 911 Amnesty Law was on the books. The article inspired our state’s government to take action when it was sent to Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, the creator of Assembly Bill 1999. With the help of Cook’s article, as well as several other similar cases, the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 1999.

This law, which was enacted Jan 1. 2011, protects children engaged in underaged drinking from being prosecuted for seeking medical attention for themselves or fellow partygoers. According to Portantino, “This bill sends a message that if you do the right thing by helping a friend in distress you will not be punished. It provides a safe way for teens who are in trouble to reach out for help.”

“I think it will be helpful,” said Associate Principal Sharon Bartlett. “This law does not make drinking okay. If you find yourself making a poor choice it shouldn’t be compounded with another bad choice. That is why we are honoring students who passed the Red Watchband training. It is important to understand the toxicity of alcohol. I hope there is a voice of reason to prevent the problem. But at the very least there should always be a voice of reason to get help.”

Research performed at Cornell University has proved the effectiveness of enacting such laws. After Cornell publicized their new immunity policies, 22% more people called for emergency medical attention, and 61% felt less scared to call 911 for a fellow classmate in need. California now joins Colorado, New Jersey, and Texas in enacting 911 Amnesty Laws.

“My daughter is an ER nurse and she has had a lot of patients suffering from high alcohol intoxication levels. Timing is crucial. It is imperative to get help for people. No one should pay for a poor choice with their lives,” said Bartlett.

“I think this bill is a great idea,” said senior Carson Mead. “Attention should be put on the person in need of medical help instead of focusing on the issue of underage drinking. Underage drinking is going to happen regardless. That won’t change.”

Cook emphasizes the importance of the legislation.

“I wrote this article to show the community that tragedies can be reduced by action, rather than preaching on the issue of underage drinking,” said Cook. “My article brings a new idea to the table that has not only proved statistically successful, but provides teens with an incentive to seek medical help in alcohol-related emergencies. This is a public health issue. When prevention fails, this law gives people a concrete way to save lives.”