Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

August 29, 2013

BOB ZALTSBERG: Lifeline Law makes room for discretion, lawmakers say

Legislation offers immunity when help sought due to alcohol consumption.

Indiana’s new Lifeline Law puts the safety of someone who needs medical care over any concern that a person calling for help could wind up in trouble because of an alcohol violation.

The man who shepherded the bill through the Statehouse, Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, stresses that’s the intent of the law: Safety first.

“We go back to the fact that nobody’s going to get mad that you called 911,” he said Monday.

Early Friday morning, that didn’t happen when people at a party where alcohol was being served found 19-year-old Rachael Fiege of Zionsville at the bottom of some basement stairs after an apparent fall. They told police they moved her to another room and monitored her overnight. When she couldn’t be awakened sometime after 7 a.m., they called for medical help.

She died Saturday.

Merritt said it’s difficult to talk about this particular case because many details aren’t known, such as whether Fiege was drinking or how much.

“There could have been people who were overserved [alcohol] that might have been fearful they could get in trouble,” he said. But if there’s a situation in which someone needs help, the law’s intent is to provide immunity to whomever makes the call, he said.

But the question exists: If Fiege’s injuries were not caused by alcohol, would the law have covered the underaged drinkers?

The new law lays out a set of circumstances in which immunity is given if help is sought “for an individual who reasonably appeared to be in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption.” What if help is called for someone who’s sober but otherwise injured?

Merritt said part of his reason for pushing the law was to fight binge drinking. But he believes the law should set in motion safety in a broader set of circumstances.

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