By PAUL MINNIS
The (Columbus) Republic
COLUMBUS — It was only a 10-minute drive. But with their 18-year-old son, Brett, apparently clinging to life, the frantic drive to the hospital by Norman Finbloom and his wife, Dawn, felt like an eternity.
It would be one they would never forget.
Brett, just days from starting college at the University of Oklahoma, had passed out from consuming too much alcohol that early August night during a large drinking party with friends near his Carmel home.
Friends at the party waited between 30 and 45 minutes to call for help, not understanding that a new law would have protected them from getting into trouble for underage drinking.
Brett never regained consciousness and died two days later, Aug. 5, while his friends huddled in the lobby of St. Vincent Heart Hospital in Carmel to support him.
The impact of Brett’s death was felt an hour south in Columbus, where his friend and soccer buddy Mitch Tabler lives.
Tabler is a senior at Columbus East High School, where he also played on the Olympians’ soccer team.
“I was more in shock than anything else,” Tabler told The Republic. “Not being able to say goodbye was rough. It took a while to sink in.”
Motivated by his friend’s death, Tabler has organized a free, two-hour presentation — called Get the Word Out — Monday at YES Cinema, 328 Jackson St., Columbus, where the Finblooms will stress how important it is for young people to report medical emergencies brought on by the illegal abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Tabler, who played with Brett on a traveling team associated with the Indianapolis-based Westside United Soccer Club, organized the event as part of his senior project. The event isn’t about lecturing kids about drugs and alcohol, Tabler said. Instead, it’s to persuade them to call for help immediately the next time someone gets carried away at a party.
Brett was a scholar athlete at Carmel High School. He volunteered his time to help special-needs children. He also was ready to leave in a matter of days to begin his freshman year of college, where he was to major in business.
Brett also had a lot of friends whom he was bidding farewell. A series of parties ended tragically at one of their houses near his home. Friends who initially hesitated to call for help actually were protected by a law that went into effect July 1, a month before Brett’s death.
The Lifeline Law states that someone can call for emergency assistance without being charged themselves with underage drinking.
A group of students from Indiana University and Purdue University had proposed the idea, modeled after immunity laws at their campuses that encourage students to report emergencies, said Whitney Moorman, State Sen. Jim Merritt’s press secretary. She said no public immunity existed before the Lifeline Law. Underage drinking typically is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
The Lifeline Law was written by state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who will be among the speakers Monday.
“The [new] law recognizes that kids will make mistakes,” Norman Finbloom said. “What we’re asking people is to please not compound a mistake by risking the loss of someone’s life.”
Tabler said he made sure to invite to the presentation Brett’s soccer buddies and others who knew him well. He expects a crowd of at least 65 but is hoping for 200. Tabler hopes parents attend so they can take steps to help their children make decisions that keep them safe.
Faster action might not have saved Brett’s life, Norman Finbloom recognizes. But Finbloom feels at least it would have given his son a better chance of survival, despite a poor decision on Brett’s part to drink so much that he suffered alcohol poisoning and lost consciousness.
The months since Brett’s death have been difficult for his parents.
Norman Finbloom said he cries every day. He and his wife have joined separate support groups, and their 14-year-old daughter, Jenna, who idolized her brother, is in grief counseling.
Normally happy milestones will never be the same. The fateful phone call and torturous 10-minute drive to the hospital was on the day of the Finblooms’ wedding anniversary.
Brett’s parents harness their pain by accepting invitations to speak about their experience and emphasize the need for people to make good decisions in crisis situations. They have had 12 speaking engagements so far and hope to do many more to spread their message.
“There’s no one unaffected when someone dies like this,” Norman Finbloom said. “The kids who were at that party with my son were just scared, but they have to live with this the rest of their lives.”