It’s a ritual that happens all too often. A person turns 21 years old. So he or she is challenged to take 21 shots of an alcohol of choice, usually whiskey.
On April 7, a 21-year-old Independence man, Alberto Lima Betancourt, took the 21-shot challenge. The following day, he died from severe alcohol poisoning. His blood-alcohol level was 0.459, more than six times the legal limit for driving, 0.08.
On April 9, hospital officials notified Sugar Creek police. An investigation revealed Betancourt took 21 shots of alcohol, according to Sugar Creek Detective Virginia DeBoard.
“It’s becoming more prominent, especially on college campuses,” DeBoard said.
Police said this is what happened: Betancourt was celebrating with friends at a Sugar Creek bar. A friend took him outside to possibly revive in the cool air but not check on him for a while. Apparently Betancourt got up to walk at one point but fell. Friends took him to Centerpoint Medical Center and left him there – he was unconscious – without telling anyone. Doctors tried to revive him.
“All his vital signs were basically gone,” Police Chief Herb Soule said. Betancourt was an organ donor, and doctors kept him on life support long enough to harvest some of his organs.
Sugar Creek detectives did find and talk to the friends. There was no foul play, Soule said, and there will be no charges.
“Certainly there’s a moral responsibility there, and his friends should be bothered by this for a good long time,” Soule said.
Even if the friends had called police, Soule said, something could have been done, such as pumping the person’s stomach.
Soule said “21 for 21” is a misguided attempt “to prove your maturity and adulthood.”
“These trends hit the Internet, and then they multiply,” he said.
At least one study suggests a cause for serious concern.
A study a few years ago at the University of Missouri found that of those who drink to celebrate their 21st birthdays, 24 percent of the women and 34 percent of the men reported having 21 or more drinks.
Of course, having fewer than 21 shots can cause serious problems too, and researchers looking at the study data estimated that half of the men and more than one-third of the women reached blood-alcohol levels of 0.26 or higher. At that point a person is severely impaired, at risk of choking on vomit and at risk of serious injury. People metabolize alcohol at different rates because of factors such as gender, weight and the type of alcohol drunk, but under certain conditions even 10 drinks can put a person’s blood-alcohol level at 0.30 – more than three times the legal limit and enough to slow the respiratory rate so much that death is possible.
-- Michael Glover and Jeff Fox collaborated on this article