On Halloween 2009, as 19-year-old Kenneth Blake was driving himself home from a party at which he had gotten drunk, he hit another car, killing 16-year-old Laura Reynolds. Nearly three years later, a Missouri judge is considering whether the party's host, 46-year-old Sandra Triebel, should be tried on a charge of second-degree involuntary manslaughter for serving Blake drinks.
The state has never convicted an alcohol provider in connection with fatal drunk driving accidents, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Baker said. But she said her office charged Triebel in Reynolds' death because she mixed the drinks herself in her Kansas City home, knew that Blake was a minor when she served him alcohol, and knew that he was intoxicated when he got into his car. That level of criminal negligence warrants an involuntary manslaughter charge, she said.
"We're not out to get every social host in Missouri, but this is close enough to the line that it merited the charge, merited the prosecution," Baker said. "When children are under our custody and control, we have a duty of care."
But under Missouri civil law, Triebel cannot be "held liable for the conduct of a third party," no matter how tragic its effect, said Tiffany Leuty, Triebel's public defender.
In a brief she filed before Jackson County judge Peggy McGraw, Leuty argued that the involuntary manslaughter charge should be thrown out, since Missouri courts have for years ruled that "furnishing alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries by intoxicated persons."
In a hearing before McGraw last week, Assistant Prosecutor Janette Rodecap pointed to a 2003 Pennsylvania case in which an appeals court upheld a woman's manslaughter conviction under circumstances similar to Triebel's. Rodecap acknowledged that the Pennsylvania ruling was not legally relevant to Triebel's case, but argued that it showed the proper way to understand a party host's responsibility in such situations.
McGraw is expected to issue a ruling in the next two weeks on whether to allow the charge.
Triebel also faces charges of providing alcohol to a minor and allowing a minor to drink intoxicating liquor on her property. Her trial is scheduled for September.