New 911 Lifeline law gives immunity to minors

Law may have helped get faster medical care for LISD student who

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A new law is now in place encouraging young Texans to call for help in situations where alcohol poisoning may be a factor.

The message behind this law could have helped get medical attention more quickly for Vandegrift High School freshman

Amanda de la Torre, who died after head injuries sustained during a Steiner Ranch party in late April where minors were serving and drinking alcohol.

The 911 Lifeline Legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Kirk Watson, provides limited immunity to a person under 21 who calls for help because someone may have alcohol poisoning. Senate Bill 1331 was enacted by the Texas Legislature on Sept. 1.

"This law would have provided some protection if teens would have called that night," said Carolyn Beck, director of communications and governmental relations for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

"If they called reporting a head injury, technically this law would not apply but police have discretion about cases like this," Beck said.

"If our agents were called out that night we would not have cited teens for underage drinking, especially when it involved a head injury," Beck said.

Roger Wade, Travis County Sheriff's Office spokesman, confirmed Monday that the de la Torre death is still under investigation and that he would be speculating if he commented on the impacts of this law on her case.

Months ago Wade said: "She (Amanda) received the injuries 8 to 10 hours before EMS was called. It might have made a difference.

She received fairly extensive injuries and anytime you wait that long to address them, it's not good."

Amanda died after being in a coma for 10 days. TCSO detectives believed her skull was fractured during a party in the 3200 block of Magenta Sky Trail in Steiner

on April 30. There were drugs and alcohol at the party along with dozens of teenagers from VHS, Leander, Cedar Park and Lake Travis high schools.

Incident reports indicate that after Amanda was injured, someone loaded her up in a car and took her to another house and the following Sunday morning, a parent called 911 at 8:23 a.m.

In June TABC issued an arrest warrant for Joe Richards, a VHS student who was charged with furnishing alcohol to Amanda.

The warrant said one witness stated that he observed Amanda taking shots of Tequila inside Joe's residence during the night.

The warrant also said Amanda's twin sister, Bianca admitted that Amanda was drinking and smoking and that when "she believed Amanda was getting a ‘little out of hand,' she decided it was time to leave and to take Amanda to ‘sober up.' Before they were able to leave, Amanda received her head injury and the subjects were afraid to call for help."

Beck said the new 911 Lifeline law encourages youths to call for help anytime and not be concerned about the consequences.

"Saving a life is more important than anything else," she said.

TABC is partnering with Aware, Awake, Alive and members of the alcoholic beverage industry to spread the word about the new law.

It states in the event of possible alcohol poisoning, a person under 21 calling for help will not be cited for possessing or consuming alcohol. The immunity for minors is limited to the first person who calls for help, only if he or she stays on the scene and cooperates with law enforcement and medical personnel. The new law does not protect a person from being cited for any other violation.

TABC enacted a similar internal policy in 2009, following the death of 18-year-old Austinite Carson Starkey. Carson died of alcohol overdose during his first semester of college following a fraternity hazing incident.

TABC is sending a letter about the new law to more than 75 Texas colleges and universities.

"We at TABC feel strongly that with enough publicity and education, this law will save lives," said TABC Administrator Alan Steen.

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