Knowing when to make the right call

Taylor Ferguson

Rachael Fiege, a 19 year-old incoming freshman at IU Bloomington, fell down a flight of stairs last month while at a party between 1-2 a.m. Despite being monitored on and off all night by friends, police did not receive a call until six hours later when Fiege was found to be unresponsive. Fiege was taken off life support the following day.

It has remained unclear whether alcohol played a role in Fiege’s fatal injury, but we must recognize the fact that there was alcohol at the party and those that were in attendance delayed in calling the authorities until several hours later due to underage drinking.

We’re friends of Fiege too afraid to notify the authorities until after six hours because alcohol could have been served to minors? Would it have made a difference if these friends knew of a state law that provides immunity for some alcohol-related offenses, subject to certain conditions, to Indiana citizens who request medical assistance for someone in need? Fiege’s incident has not only gained national attention but has also helped shed light onto this very law.

The Indiana Lifeline Law, or Senate Enrolled Act 274, signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, took effect July 2012. The law protects young adults from the crimes of public intoxication, minor possession, minor consumption and minor transport to persons who reveal themselves to law enforcement while seeking medical assistance for a person suffering from an alcohol-related health emergency. The law regards only to the abuse of alcohol, not hard drugs.

To receive this immunity the person must validate that they are acting in good faith by giving their full name and any other applicable information that is requested, remaining on the scene until law enforcement and medical assistance arrives and cooperating with these authorities while on the scene.

The law does not protect the person who is in the emergency, the law only protects the caller, or person who is willing to reveal themselves to the authorities and cooperate, even if said person is also illegally intoxicated. The law does not provide immunity for persons who are drinking and driving, possess drugs, vandalize property or are acting disorderly to medical personnel.

Charles Edelen, chief of campus police, said the purpose of the lifeline law is to encourage students not to be scared to call the police if they are at a party and someone is so intoxicated that it could be life threatening.

“In the past at other universities in Indiana, someone has been so intoxicated that they end up dying later on, but if a phone call had been made their life could have been saved,” Edelen said.

Edelen said other students at these parties are concerned about being drunk too and of getting charged and have criminal offenses and that’s why the call is not made.

“The law is written so that they are not culpable,” Edelen said. “They can’t be written a citation for also being intoxicated as long as they stay around and answer any questions the officers may have on the scene to help that person in need.”

Edelen said it doesn’t matter if IU Southeast is a dry campus.

“The law supersedes any policy that we have,” Edelen said. “The law says we can’t cite someone in that situation, but they do have to follow the procedures.”

Edelen said since the law was implemented a year ago, IUS has not had a situation where this law would have come into affect.

Caroline Turcotte, general studies sophomore, transferred to IUS this past summer; before coming to IU Southeast Turcotte attended classes at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN, where she was put in a similar situation to Fiege’s friends.

“I was at some guy’s 20th birthday party in a really small dorm full of people,” Turcotte said. “When I showed up he had already been drinking all day and was then trying to take 20 shots, one for each year.”

Turcotte said she felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to stick around to see what came next, but heard the next day that he was taken to the hospital.

“I’m glad someone had the sense to call an ambulance,” Turcotte said. “I hadn’t heard of the lifeline law before that. I don’t think anyone was punished afterwards though.”

Craig Munroe, lieutenant of IU Bloomington campus police, said there was another instance where a minor who had just been recently drinking sought out medical assistance from their resident adviser.

“The RA called in and the officers did not arrest because the intoxicated subject was seeking medical attention for themselves,” Munroe said.

Munroe made clear that the law is only protecting the caller from being punished, not the person they are calling for.

“The person who is intoxicated, we still cite them,” Munroe said. “We generally give them a ticket and when they go to the hospital they take the ticket with them.”

Edelen said anything that would help prevent someone from dying from a mistake they made is a good thing.

“We’re trying to keep students safe. If that’s going to help someone make a phone call to save a life then I’m all for that.”