Alcohol-poisoning awareness: On a quest to spare other families their pain

Three years after their son’s death, parents of Poly hazing victim Carson Starkey are spreading the word nationwide about the dangers of alcohol poisoning

nwilson@thetribunenews.comSeptember 20, 2011 

The parents of a Cal Poly freshman who died three years ago from alcohol poisoning haven’t allowed their son’s loss to wear them down.

Despite their lingering pain, Scott and Julia Starkey are as active as ever in their work to prevent another incident like the one that led to the death of 18-year-old Carson Starkey in 2008.

Starkey died with a blood-alcohol level of about 0.4 percent, five times the legal driving limit, after a fraternity hazing event involving large amounts of hard alcohol. Starkey was pledging the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

The Starkeys, residents of Austin, Texas, have started a nonprofit organization called Aware Awake Alive that educates young people about alcohol poisoning and offers programs to keep them safe.

“I don’t want another dad to go through what I’m going through,” Scott Starkey said in a video he created with his wife on their organization’s website. “I feel like it’s my duty to spend my life trying to make sure that another dad doesn’t have to feel like I feel.”

Since their son’s death, the couple has flown to San Luis Obispo from Texas numerous times.

This year, they spoke with Cal Poly’s Week of Welcome and housing orientation leaders, educating students on the dangers of binge drinking and alcohol poisoning.

Videos on Carson Starkey’s story were shown to new students, and WOW leaders discussed the late freshman’s story with new students.

The Starkeys also have given out bracelets for the “Aware Awake Alive” campaign and informed students on symptoms of alcohol poisoning — confusion, hypothermia, paleness and loss of consciousness.

Their website even features an interview with Zac Ellis, one of the four fraternity brothers convicted last year of hazing in connection with their son’s death. Ellis’ video is titled “Pledge Educator’s Regret.”

“This has changed my life in virtually every aspect you can think of — socially, academically, financially,” Ellis said. “It ruins lives, ruins families, it’s a lot of hardship, and to just blow it off could be the worst mistake someone ever made. I’m speaking from experience — so make good decisions.”

Ellis said that attorney fees and damages in court cost him and his family more than $600,000.

“The Starkeys’ energy and passion has turned a tragedy into a tribute that has and will impact literally thousands of students at Cal Poly as well as across the country,” said Stephan Lamb, Cal Poly’s director of Student Life and Leadership.

Fraternity members started to take Carson Starkey to the hospital on the night of his death because he’d lost consciousness.

But they turned back, fearing they might get into trouble because of an underage drinking party they’d held. And Starkey was found dead the next morning.

Ellis said he wasn’t there when the decision about the hospital trip was made, and wished he could have followed it through.

The Aware Awake Alive site has information on blood-alcohol levels and statements from students and young people about risky drinking behaviors.

The website also has a map showing the 11 states, including California, that have implemented Good Samaritan legislation supported by the Starkeys.

Those laws grant immunity from prosecution for minors who possess or purchase alcohol if police arrive because they called 911 to report a medical emergency.

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