Starting this weekend, many college students begin their spring break pilgrimage. They're heading to prime party spots like our Florida beaches, and for many, that yearly ritual includes alcohol, and lots of it.
But the reality is, that fun can turn deadly. And few people know that better than a Tampa mother who lost her daughter to a night of drinking two years ago.
It's a story no parent wants to tell. In 2012, Angie Ammon stepped forward sharing what happened to her 19-year-old daughter Molly.
"They said she was not incoherent. She was talking, she was laughing, she was saying ‘oh my gosh, I'm so funny aren't I?' And they put her to bed and they checked on her, and then in the morning she wasn't breathing," Angie said.
In March of 2011, Molly died from alcohol poisoning. Her blood alcohol level was .4 -- five times the legal limit. It happened within hours of leaving her south Tampa home.
Molly's friends put her to bed at 2 a.m. She never woke up.
A mission becomes clear
One year later in Molly's untouched bedroom, Angie knew what her mission was.
"Hopefully her purpose was that somebody else will learn the lesson, and I can't lie. I wish she was learning the lesson and some other mother was standing here crying, telling the story.But, it is what it is," Angie said.
After our story with Angie aired here on FOX 13, Angie took Molly's story nationwide, appearing on the "Today" show. She's also spoken to two sororities at the University of Florida and pre-taped a segment for the Ricki Lake show.
We caught up with Angie two weeks ago when she was speaking to tweens, teens, parents and young adults at the First Presbyterian church in Tampa.
"Molly went away -- it was her first spring break at the University of Florida. So never ever did I think she wouldn't come home," Angie said.
Now, she urges young people to make smart choices.
"I can talk about her and maybe, just maybe help somebody else in the room," she says.
Alarming statistics, and an unclear law
The reality is that 90 percent of underage drinkers are binge drinkers, with young adults chugging down more than nine drinks at a time. And there's more: one in three kids start drinking in 8th grade, and half of those who drink say they've been drunk.
By age 18, two out of every three students say they've tried alcohol.
Angie believes there's a stark message all parents must hear: your child is likely to drink, and even if not, they will be around others who do.
"If they're lucky enough to have the child that doesn't drink, they will be with a friend -- especially once they get to college -- who has had too much to drink. That's just the fact, and they need to know what to do for that friend, and that's get them to the hospital."
Getting to the hospital begins with a call for help, but underage drinkers hesitate. They fear getting into trouble. Some colleges campuses recognize that problem, including the University of Florida, and created amnesty policies.
Off campus, some states are following suit, enacting 911 Lifeline legislation. Here in Florida, the 911 Good Samaritan Act went into effect October 2012, and prosecutors are waiting to see how the law will be applied, and what precedents will be set.
"I can see this playing out with two teenagers that make a stupid mistake," said Felix Vega, an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County.
Vega says the new law was written to help curtail deaths from drug overdoses from prescription pills like xanax and oxycodone.
Unfortunately, it's not yet clear whether it will apply to underage drinkers.
"It's going through it's growing pains at this point. On the back side, how we handle it in the system, that's going to be a million dollar question," Vega said.
Going forward: raising awareness, saving lives
That million dollar question will have to be answered in Florida courts. In the meantime, Vega has no doubt that the law's intent is to save lives.
"There should be more campaign to get the law out there. Let people know about it, especially to kids who are going to college. Look, this law is here if you're in this situation you need to act and call for medical attention," he said.
Law or not, Angie believes calling for help is the right thing to do.
"Big message: never ever put an intoxicated friend to bed. Call a parent, call 911, even if you think they're going to get in trouble," Angie says. "The friends that were with Molly did not know to do that. I did not know that you needed to do that, and those friends will live with finding their closest friend dead for the rest of their lives. And no other student should have to live with that."
Angie says she draws strength now from a picture Molly drew of herself as an angel, back on her on her 9th birthday. These days, she believes her angel's story has saved lives: she knows of two families who say their kids were saved -- because they knew when it was time to get help.
Many students ask how they will be able know if someone needs help. If you think you need to call, the best thing to do is to pick up the phone. You can call 911 and let the operator help you, call a parent or the poison information center.
Remember, blood alcohol levels can continue to rise after you stop drinking.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning:
For much more information, please visit the Molly Ammons Spring Break Awareness page:
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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