The Honorable Daniel Flynn ruled that she had not behaved in a criminally negligent way, and found that it was unclear how the second bottle of vodka had been provided for Shelby to fulfill her "unwavering intent" to down 15 vodka shots that night. Despite the outcome, Benito insists that this proceeding did increase awareness about how dangerous binge drinking and social hosting can be — and will continue to. "If one life is saved because of the awareness this raised, it's worth it," he says.
In his statement to the press, Adam Ryan, the attorney who represented the accused teenager during the proceeding, stressed that there was no winner in the case, stating that his client had lost a dear friend and that she would have to live with that loss — and her role in it. He argued that his client had been too young and inexperienced to realize that her friend was in danger of dying from alcohol poisoning. While the host family cannot comment publicly about Shelby's death for legal reasons, Beasley, who is defending them in the civil suit, insists that his clients' lives have been turned upside down because a "deeply disturbed girl . on a suicide mission" was invited to their home for the night — and chose to drink herself to death there. "This case, which is about revenge and money, never should have been litigated," he says. But the Allens should have opened their arms to my clients, to their young daughter, who has suffered tremendously over the death of her friend, instead of lashing out vindictively." "We're not making Shelby out to be a choirgirl," responds Mark R. Swartz, the Gold River, California, attorney who is representing the Allens this time around. "It's established that no one forced her to drink." Friends and teachers were interviewed after Shelby's death, but no one presented an image of her as a troubled teen. Regardless of Shelby's reputation, Swartz continues, "if she was out of control or drinking too much, it was her friend [Jane's] responsibility to tell the parents what was happening. The father, in particular, should have known better than to leave a group of teenage girls alone with access to a full bar.
He should have known what was going on in his own house. And he shouldn't have been allowing access to alcohol to underage kids, especially when he was concerned they were interested in the alcohol." The Allens were deeply disappointed that there was no finding of criminal responsibility for any of the family members, not even a citation for providing alcohol to a minor. They filed their civil suit against the host family last spring; the trial is set to begin in August. The lawsuits don't end there: Beasley, the host family's attorney, has filed a counterclaim against Alyssa, blaming her for the tragedy that unfolded that night, alleging that Alyssa should have sought help for Shelby and, by not doing so, contributed to her death. It's about finding meaning and doing some good in the wake of Shelby's death. The germ of an idea took root in Debbie's mind soon after her loss. How could she help other teens and parents as the legal process took off on its own track? The idea of sharing the sad lessons from that night took shape, and by the time of Shelby's funeral — held the weekend after her death — information about what Debbie called "Shelby's Rules" was available for mourners after the service. Debbie Allen gave her first presentation about alcohol poisoning on January 5, 2009, not quite three weeks after burying her child. "Life gives you two choices when you suffer a tragedy: Give up or move on. I have a husband and another child to love and take care of. I must move on, for their sake if not mine," Debbie says. "But now I also have a mother's passion to educate teens about the dangers of alcohol poisoning amid this new culture of binge drinking — a danger many know nothing about, and a danger my family learned about in the hardest way imaginable. It's not a matter of staying strong; it's a matter of doing what needs to be done, no matter how you are feeling, no matter how sad you are. I believe — and believed almost right away — this is what Shelby would have wanted me to do." And so Debbie set out to educate students about the dangers of binge drinking and alcohol poisoning through Shelby's Rules, a nonprofit education foundation. "Shelby used to tell me, 'Mom, just tell me how things work. "What she meant was, she wasn't going to do or not do something just because I told her my stance on it. "If I had told her how alcohol affects the body, how alcohol relaxes every muscle in the body, including the gag reflex, so that if your body is trying to get rid of the booze that's poisoning it, the muscles in the throat may be too slow to respond, and you can choke on your own vomit or not be able to vomit at all . if I had explained these specifics to Shelby, she might still be alive." So, Debbie says, "I explain this stuff to these [other] kids. I admit that I didn't know enough about the dangers of alcohol to properly educate my children about them. I make sure other kids know, 'When in doubt, call 911,' and 'Vomiting = Alcohol poisoning.' " These are two of the key mottoes featured prominently in the materials Debbie hands out at her talks and in the public service messages her organization distributes. She has received letters of appreciation and interest from all over the country — attention sparked in part by the fact that Shelby's uncle, executive producer for the NBC series ER at the time, had his niece's story woven into the show's final episode, which aired the spring following Shelby's death.
In over 100 classrooms and auditoriums along the West Coast, Debbie has displayed an 8-ounce water bottle, noting that this was the amount of alcohol that was found in her daughter's body.
"I explain that at about a blood alcohol level of 0.16, kids are generally throwing up, and by 0.30, they are passing out. Allowing someone to pass out after drinking and leaving that person to 'sleep it off' may actually be leaving someone to die," says Debbie.