Maura Dolan lives a few blocks away from the home of Miramonte teen Joe Loudon, who collapsed at a teen party in May and died. Her son was a friend of the 16-year-old Joe, and her family was neighbors of both Joe and Patrick “P.J.” Gabrielli the 18-year-old rugby teammate who, with his older teenage sister, hosted the alcohol-laced party while his mother and stepfather were out of town.
She has published a restrospective of the case in the Los Angeles Times. “A teen party, a mysterious death–and a town’s unanswered grief” both looks at the social and emotional impacts of Joe’s death, but also reveals some details about the night Joe died and some disturbing facts about the teen party seen, which applies not just to Orinda, but could apply to all towns around here.
The tears have not stopped flowing in Orinda, the little town where we live and where three students face possible charges in connection with Joe’s death. The grief that at first united the town later wrenched it apart. Miscues in the investigation led some people to point fingers, convulsing the community in a debate over whether Joe’s death was an accident or a crime.
Blogs became a community forum for angry and emotional teens and their parents. Some saw a witch hunt, a need by the community to find someone or something to blame for the sudden death of a much-loved boy, an athlete and A-student who attended church regularly and was widely liked by his peers, teachers and coaches.
Others talked of a cover-up, a wall of silence. The threat of a wrongful-death lawsuit and criminal prosecution prompted some parents to hire lawyers, who advised kids not to speak. Marianne Payne, Joe’s mother, wanted answers. She complained that teens had been slow to tell police what had happened at the party.
Dolan says that hard liquor and Jell-O shots flowed freely at the party, where guests each paid $5 to imbibe. But Joe, as an autopsy later confirmed, drank a little beer then switched to water and did not appear intoxicated. He collapsed a couple times, both which prompted other partygoers to perform CPR, but no one initially called 911. After he was found in a bedroom, with vomit on him, and his lips blue, some of the kids thought about putting him in a shower to revive him.
Not only did Joe’s death force Orinda schools and the community to reexamine their approach to substance abuse, it force some in the community to look at another unpleasant fact about its culture. “That students from good families and strong schools had not called 911 when Joe first collapsed unnerved Orinda. Parents discovered that teens who passed out at parties were often ignored.”