By Ed Brock
Lauren Riggins, 15, woke up in a hospital, gagging on a breathing tube, and the first thing she did was try to apologize for drinking too much.
"I was terrified. I felt like I was just dying," Riggins said.
And Riggins had, in fact, come very close to dying after chugging half a bottle of vodka at a party in December. Her blood alcohol level was .43 and she was comatose when she arrived at the hospital, said her mother Vickey Riggins of McDonough.
For 12 hours Lauren didn't move a muscle as her family and friends prayed for her recovery.
"It was a miracle that she survived and that she did not suffer any brain damage," Vickey Riggins said. "This was the first time she had been drunk and was very nearly the last."
Lauren said she had drunk alcohol before, though never as much as she did that night, and she said drinking among teen-agers is common.
In the past 12 months the Clayton County Police Department has arrested 20 under age drinkers, 17 for being minors in possession of alcohol, two for driving under the influence and one for public drunkenness, Clayton County Police Capt. Tim Robinson said.
"We think their friends who are 21-years-old and over are buying it for them in a majority of cases," Robinson said.
In Lauren's case, 26-year-old Charles Stanley III of N. Lake Drive in Jonesboro has been charged with providing alcohol to minors.
Lauren said that on the night of the incident she was at a bowling alley in McDonough with a friend.
"One guy we knew and his cousin came up to us at the bowling alley and invited us to go to a party, so we did," Lauren said.
Once at the party, attended by two boys her age, two older men including Stanley and about five other girls, Lauren and her friend began doing shots of vodka. She walked outside to smoke a cigarette and when she came in she started drinking directly out of the bottle until somebody took it away from her.
"Really all I remember after that was I fell on the floor laughing," Lauren said.
Around 11:30 p.m. that night somebody took Lauren and her friend to another girl's house where that girl's mother called Riggins. Many parents when learning that their teen-ager is passed out drunk might let them sleep it off, but Riggins said that is the wrong thing to do.
"If we had done that with her she would have died," Riggins said.
The message Riggins and her daughter want to get across to other teens and parents is that alcohol poisoning, which Riggins said occurs when the alcohol is consumed quickly, can be deadly. Getting quick medical attention for the victim is the key to survival.
"Sometimes even though the teen is rushed to the emergency room it is too late," said Riggins who researched alcohol poisoning on the Internet after her daughter's close call. "In our case we were probably within minutes of being too late. If it had been a little bit later, if the other mother had not called me immediately, if we had waited to call 911. Those are big ifs."
As for the misdemeanor charges against Stanley, Riggins said she wishes the new child endangerment act had been in existence when the incident occurred. That act, signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue last week, makes it a felony to endanger a child.
Like Robinson, Jonesboro's acting Police Chief Robert Thomas said most underage drinkers get their older friends to buy alcohol for them.
"It is a big deal to us," Thomas said. "Any time someone buys alcohol for teens we'll take it seriously."
Thomas, whose department investigated the case against Stanley and then arrested him on March 13, said they would also respond quickly to complaints that a business was selling alcohol to minors. Lauren said she thinks she could get away with buying alcohol in some stores in Henry County, but she didn't usually buy the alcohol she drank even prior to the night she almost died.
"I would just show up (at a party) and it would be there," Lauren said.
Riggins said she is careful to communicate with the parents of Lauren's friends and she insists that there be a parent at any function her daughter attends. That doesn't always matter, mother and daughter said.
"Even if there are parents there, kids will find a way," Lauren said.
Riggins said she acknowledges that her daughter bears the responsibility for her actions and is proud of how Lauren has responded to therapy following the incident. She continues to be vigilant in keeping track of where Lauren, who will turn 16 soon, goes and who she is with.
"I do the best I can with her, talk to her frankly and love her unconditionally," Riggins said. "I just hope it will be enough to get her through her teen years."
For more information, visit http://www.brad21.org/alcohol_poisoning.html