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March 28, 2010

A lawsuit filed in Orinda teen’s party death: too bad it had to get to this point

Marianne Payne, the mother of 16-year-old Joseph Loudon, has taken a step that isn’t surprising. It’s what many expected. She has filed a lawsuit against the teen-aged Orinda “hosts” of an unsupervised party where her son fatally collapsed died on May 23.


News reports say Payne filed a wrongful death suit earlier this month against her former neighbors on Hillcrest Drive, Alexandra and Patrick P.J. Gabrielli, their mother, Isabel Hamilton, and stepfather, Scott Hamilton. She also filed suit against another local youth alleged to have purchased alcohol for the party. She says the death of her son, a popular, athletic Miramonte High sophomore, was caused by the negligence on the part of the teenagers who provided the alcohol and of the Hamiltons, who were out of town when the party was held without their permission.

Payne evidently feels she needs to take this route. While Payne has not commented on the suit, I doubt she’s motivated by money. Given what she’s said in the past, she’s probably hoping that a suit will yield more answers to what happened to her son that night. She’s said before publicly that she didn’t feel like the official criminal and coroner’s investigations provided her with those answers. She believes that parents of some of the students at the party got their kids to “lawyer up” and refuse to take responsibility.

The cause of Joe’s death remains unknown, largely because of a series of missteps by police and confusion over a prescription drug found in Joe’s system during the autopsy. That drug was later revealed to have been injected to prepare his body for organ donation. The autopsy also found only a small amount of alcohol in his system; authorities believe the boy may have suffered from an undiagnosed heart ailment.

Perhaps this suit is Payne’s way of assigning blame and punishing the people she believes are responsible for her Joe's death—making them feel some of the bottomless pain of grief she’s living with.

Joe had stopped at the party that night, and was there less than two hours when he collapsed in a hallway in front of other guests. He was briefly revived, said he was okay, and helped into a bedroom to rest. But when left alone, Joe vomited and choked.

Sometime during all this, Orinda police officers came to the house following neighbors’ reports of noise. Officers were apparently a few feet away from where Joe was in distress, but were sent away by Alexandra Gabrielli, who said she would make sure to quiet things down.

After finding Joe, some partygoers tried to perform CPR on Joe and called 911. Friends of the Gabrielli family say it was PJ who tried to administer CPR, and it was Alexandra who said to call 911.

But it was too late. Joe was pronounced dead at Kaiser hospital in Walnut Creek.

P.J. and Alexandra Gabrielli were never criminally charged with causing Joe’s death. Last month, they pleaded no contest to charges of furnishing alcohol to minors. They were each ordered to serve 200 hours of community service and to pay a $1,000 fine.

People close to the Gabriellis said that the two siblings and their mother and stepfather were devastated by Joe's death. They also said the Gabrielli siblings made many efforts to express remorse to Joe's family, including writing letters to the priest at the Catholic Church both families once attended.

This is a tragic case—and not just because a boy died or because here are other teens in and around Orinda who, I’m told, are living with an incredible amount of grief. It’s awful because of the anger, bitterness, and nastiness it has generated within this community. I engaged in some of that negativity myself, getting angry, writing in a heated, judgmental way about the case. I don't like that I did that.

I received lots of e-mails and phone calls filled with grief, anger and recriminations. But the comments were not so much about what I wrote, but about what everyone involved was writing and saying about everyone else.

Still, I had the pleasure of having a lawyer working with one of the parties write a letter to my home and to my employer, calling me a cyber-bully. But this lawyer, in my opinion, didn’t necessarily take the high road either, engaging in what amounted to a form of legal bullying.

That’s the level that this case has sunk.

I thought that we were all supposed to be such nice, compassionate people here in the suburbs.

It turns out that what I wrote was tame in comparison to what others on both sides posted on my blog, on the East Bay Daze, and now on the East Bay Daze blog on SFGate. In the past, there were some nasty opinions hurled at the kids at the party and the hosts; now Marianne Payne is in for it.

I’ve been sympathetic to Marianne Payne and have hoped she would get the answers she needed. Some say she already knows what happened and is driven by her grief and her own denial to lash out in this way. News reports note that her ex-husband, Joe’s father, has not joined in her suit.

The “system” didn’t help matters in this case. I can’t imagine, if it were my son who died, wanting to get any more involved in this system, with more lawyers and more court dates. Litigation is draining and soul-sucking, no matter how righteous your cause may be.

But it’s not my son who died. I’m just sorry that this grieving mother feels she has to go down this route.

53 comments:

MickeyMartin said...

"I thought that we were all supposed to be such nice, compassionate people here in the suburbs."

Really? People are people no matter where they live. I think this is the stage they call bargaining....

If someone pays for this then it will justify...

This is a tragic situation all around. I feel for everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

Litigation is draining and soul-sucking sure but why let that stop from making a buck or two from you dead son ......

Anonymous said...

SM- With all respect, you just knew this was going to happen. A large percentage of the comments to your February 16 Blog, predicted that Ms. Payne was going to sue someone/everyone for her son's death. Many of the comments to your blog, including your own remarks, disparaged the Gabrielli's for not appearing in court and for 'lawyering up.' This predicted lawsuit was exactly why they did it. Ms. Payne has now turned her grief into vengeance and is out to hurt and punish people, unlike herself, that had no legal responsibility for the safety and well being of her son. Where was she the night of the party and why did she not stop it? Why is Ms. Payne exempt from responsibility but some teenage adults and their parents aren't? No amount of money will bring her son back and the lawsuits will only bring much more pain to her and hurt a lot more people. I no longer have any sympathy for her.

Castle Hill Bill said...

The following was written by me and I take full responsibility for its content. CHB

M- With all respect, you just knew this was going to happen. A large percentage of the comments to your February 16 Blog, predicted that Ms. Payne was going to sue someone/everyone for her son's death. Many of the comments to your blog, including your own remarks, disparaged the Gabrielli's for not appearing in court and for 'lawyering up.' This predicted lawsuit was exactly why they did it. Ms. Payne has now turned her grief into vengeance and is out to hurt and punish people, unlike herself, that had no legal responsibility for the safety and well being of her son. Where was she the night of the party and why did she not stop it? Why is Ms. Payne exempt from responsibility but some teenage adults and their parents aren't? No amount of money will bring her son back and the lawsuits will only bring much more pain to her and hurt a lot more people. I no longer have any sympathy for her.

March 28, 2010 7:06 PM

Anonymous said...

Here is what I still don't understand.

We are told that "neighbors called in a noise complaint"...Marianne Payne lived directly across the street from the party where both her sons were in attendance. Why didn't she walk across the street to make sure the parents were home? Isn't she ultimately responsible for her childrens whereabouts?

I can not imagine the state she must be in to willingly involve herself and her surviving son in the "system" again with all its court dates, depositions, lawyers and public scrutiny. I am sad to say, she has lost my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

My heart pours out to her (the mother). How can one think that a lawsuit means she is not sympathetic. Perhaps, you are saying that filing a lawsuit relieves you of the guilt you were feeling for not supporting her and her family all this time. It is a tragedy for everyone, and I hurt for the kids who will forever carry the burden of their guilt. It may not be criminal guilt, I will leave that discussion for others, but guilt it is. Call it survival guilt, or bystanders guilt, or something else, but they will be torn up by guilt for years, or longer, depending on the help they choose to receive. I hope they get help to live with themselves in a healthy way.

But yes, a lawsuit is very important. If there is not one, it is too easy to say "oh, well", not just for the named persons, but for the bystanders that night (and their parents) who still attend or allow their kids to attend these underage drinking parties. Honestly, if you daughter had died, would you really turn the other cheek? Especially how the community retreated after the event? I cannot say I would do it any differently. It is a rare human being who turns this kind of pain into something good. The community could help this occur, though, in future events, which are sure to happen. In the medical profession, we have learned the hard way, that mistakes do not need to be turned into lawsuits when there is a genuine, "I am so sorry", to everyone involved. The families and kids could have all come together with, "What did we do, I am so sorry, I was there, but I didn't know what was happening, I saw it, but I didn't want to know, I was scared, I was afraid, I was so drunk I didn't know, I took a pill and I don't remember anything", etc, etc. But the families who chose to retreat, directed the course of events that followed. They took care of their own. Why are we surprised that she is following suit. I can only imagine that her pain is still alive, and that it is fueled by a righteous anger.

May all sides find peace from their pain.
---------------------------------

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Castle Hill Bill,
Thanks for your input. Yes, the lawsuit was expected, but not certain. I still hold to my position that the Gabrielli siblings and their lawyer made the wrong call in not showing up in court for their first appearance. Would their appearance have mattered, softened Ms. Payne's heart enough so that she would not sue? Who knows, but it was still the right thing for them to show up. To show respect for the process. Their dead friend. The judge said they needed to come to court.

Lawyering up: it didn't stop this lawsuit. Who knows? Marianne Payne may have been hell bent on suiing since the night her son died. Or, after the authorities and the media wrongly assumed that Joe died of binge drinking. There were so many goofs and false asumptions in this case: It could be pretty painful and infuriating.

Payne may also have big expenses that occurred as a result of her son's death. She felt she had to move out of her house, and relocate. I'm told she took time off work. She's a divorced mom. Maybe there are huge therapy bills not covered by insurance.

Lawyering up: I'm afraid Orinda parents--fairly or not--have a reputation for that when their kids get in trouble. Heard from the wife of a former high school administrator who worked at Miramonte. Yep, you catch a kid on campus with alcohol and you take steps to discipline him but you have to prepared to deal with the high-priced lawyer the parents hire.

Anon 8:53 p.m. has an interesting perspective: "In the medical profession, we have learned the hard way, that mistakes do not need to be turned into lawsuits when there is a genuine, "I am so sorry", to everyone involved. ...
But the families who chose to retreat, directed the course of events that followed."

Some of those families said they did not retreat, that they cooperated with authorities and gave information. Others say it wasn't good enough.

Well, now Marianne Payne herself is lawyering up big time with the lawsuit. As I said, it's too bad it had to get to this.

Anonymous said...

As a mother i would be doing the same thing. My heart goes out to Mrs. Payne.

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked by some of the comments I'm reading in response to the lawsuit. I centainly hope if those that are making such comments never have to experience the loss of child under such tragic condition. This is not about money, this is about getting answers that she does not have, why does this make her the target of such hateful comments?

Anonymous said...

My daughter was there when one of the host told them to "GO DOWNSTAIRS AND BE QUIET" when the police was outside. The police did not do their job by taking the word of a drunk young adult, they completely blotched the investigation. Knowing this information and other that i will not post, Mrs. Payne has every right to file such lawsuit. I would and so would all of you, if you lost your child the same way she has!

Anonymous said...

Do you know where your 16 year old is at all times? I don't, as my son says "I'm the worst parent in Orinda" I don't let him go out unless I know of his plans and get them confirmed by making a call to other parents. They change plans all the time without letting me know.

Joe's mom knew where he was supposed to be at a movie with his friend. Why are you people attacking her for not knowing. From all accounts she was a responsible parent, whose child changed plans without her knowledge. All of you are sinking to new lows.

Anonymous said...

For those families that are saying they have "come forwared and cooporated" why did you not cooperate your abstruction of justice by telling those there to "go downstairs and be quiet"? Sorry but this is not comming forward and cooperating! This is you being a coward and protecting yourself! Had the police being allowed in Joe would have had a chance of being helped.

Anonymous said...

Sure it is all about answers and not money. Payne's suit seeks unspecified monetary compensation on the grounds that she has been deprived of her son's comfort and moral and financial support, as well as economic damages for Joe's burial.

Anonymous said...

I'm certain Mrs. Payne would have preferred to have the law handle this crime, however, the police, DA all did a lousy job. She has no recource but take this route, as a civil lawsuit you cannot seek criminal justice.

Masterlock said...

Have they even been able to determine what the poor kid died of yet? Bottom line, he made a decision to be there that night and to ingest alcohol. I understand this woman is probably torn apart and angry, but trying to ruin another family isn't going to bring her son back. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

What choice does she have? The boy did die from inaction of the party host(s) and partygoers.

Joe was at the party for less than two hours when he collapsed in a hallway in front of a handful of guests. He was revived, allegedly said he was "okay" and he was helped to a bedroom to rest. Left alone for several minutes, Loudon vomited and choked. Partygoers then administered CPR and called 911, but it was too late.

It was later revealed that Orinda police, called to the home by neighbors complaining of noise, were on the doorstep and feet away from where Joe was in distress but were sent away by Alexandra Gabrielli - who said she would make sure things would quiet down.

Negligence is the characterized by the lack of action that a REASONABLE person would take in the same circumstance.

Let's assume that we're all reasonable people. If a minor in my home collapses, I get a hold of his parent(s) or call the ER to see if I should call an ambulance. I would have gotten that kid home as fast as I could.

Because the kids were having a no-no party, they were reluctant to do what a reasonable person would do.

Their CYA caused or significantly contributed to the death of this boy. As such, all parties should be held financially liable. It's obvious that they're not going to be held criminally liable.

IMO, this is a lesson for many parents out there. I would never leave my teenage children home alone for a weekend, and with me unavailable.

CMN said...

@ 1:57: I completely agree that CYA mode was a huge factor in this tragedy. The kids were probably petrified of being caught and this fear, combined with immaturity and possible intoxication, can turn an emergency into a tragedy.

We need to enact Good Samaritan/Medical Exemption policies. Kids should not have to worry about the possibility of punishment when faced with a medical emergency!

Anonymous said...

Soccer mom: why do say "now Marianne Payne is in for it"? Why do you assume people will turn on Mrs. Payne for taking this course of action? You nor most people that have to write nasty things about her know the details behind the loss of her son. For those of you who are trashing Mrs. Payne for seeking justice should be ashamed of yourselves. Most people in this community support her action. STOP with the insults, most everyone that lives in this town knows this is not about the money. Those that don't this is how you honor Joe, by insulting his mother?

Anonymous said...

I disgree with you soccer mom, most of Orindians are behind Mrs. Payne and her family! Mrs. Payne our hearts go out to you and we are so sorry you have to endure such ignorant and abusive comments.

Anonymous said...

SHAME on the stupid people that are leaving comments about a mother who loved her child so much and who is one of the most responsible parents in this community. You have no idea what you're talking about!

Anonymous said...

"she has lost my sympathy", what do you know about losing a child, having the police blotch the case, host covering the crime, not knowing the full truth of what happened that night. Who cares if she's lost your "sympathy".

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Mrs. Payne and family you are in our thoughts and prayers as you endure some of these terrible comments. Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

What is the basis that you can say that this is not about money when one of her claims is to seek unspecified monetary compensation on the grounds that she has been deprived of her son's financial support?

I certainly could understand such a claim if it was about a spouse, but her son? What mother would raise a child as a future source of financial support?

Anonymous said...

Mr Loudon, Joe's father, has refused any part of the lawsuit, to the extent that he is being sued by his ex-wife. This is so Mr Loudon does not come after her money at a later date.

I must believe that both parents loved their son and both are dealing with unimaginable grief.

Joe left a void in both their lives, however it appears Mr Loudon does not believe this void can be filled with money.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear 5:15 p.m.
Sorry, had to remove your comment. There were allegations made against one of the people involved. I don't know if they are true or not. But you're contending that there is karmic justice at work here...

And I am sympathetic to Marianne Payne. I wish she didn't feel the need to file a lawsuit. More courts, more lawyers. And, I know everyone has all sorts of opinions about whether she has a just cause, and who is to blame for the case getting to this point.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

5:24 This is interesting, we were at a dinner party of 12 couples and we discussed why men and women react different in tragic incidents. In our own group the women sided and would act excatly like Mrs. Payne is, where as the men would do what the dad is doing. As women we are emotional beings who carry our child for nine months and this bond is simply very differnt from men. It does not mean men love the children any less, they are just not as emotional as women are.

It is a good thing they are divorced, because we all agreed if this tragedy happened to us while we were married and our husbands did not show 100% support we would have to divorce them.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Talk about being judgmental Anon 7:21PM, you say Mr Loudon is not 100% supporting his wife in her grief?

How about he might not want to have any part of her greedy scheme to capitalize on a horrible tragedy?

So maybe Mrs Louden is not supporting her husband 100%?

Anonymous said...

no insult intended of course she goes by Mrs Payne.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear 5:31 and 7:13,
I welcome your comments, and your opinions, but you're presenting information as if you're citing it from the lawsuit. You're alleging certain facts. Maybe you're citing the facts correctly, but I don't know that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

SM here is the link you can follow regarding the GABRIELLI (ALEXANDRA)
v. S.C. (RITELLI)it is not an allegation.

http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/minutes/documents/SJAN2109.PDF

I state again, everyone has the right to sue, the gabriellis exercised this right and the Payne's are doing so as well with much reason behind their decision.

Anonymous said...

8:07 we know who you are

AKA Soccer Mom said...

8:39 p.m.
Thank you for restating your comment.

Anonymous said...

For those of us who know about the above lawsuit "greedy scheme to capitalize on a" accident where no one died, you cannot compare the two.

Anonymous said...

7:21: Your theory is incorrect, at least in the suit that was mentioned in 8:39, from what I heard the husband was 100% supportive of the wive. Good for him, I fully expect my husband to fully support me no matter how crazy I am.

Anonymous said...

Gee, upper middle class absentee parents have kids that do drugs and drink too much. What a shocker.

The suburban cops are so afraid of the kid's parent's ambulance chasing lawyers that they (the cops) do nothing at the party. What a shocker.

If the parents more busy raising disciplined, responsible young adults then making money perhaps their kids wouldn't be selfish, rotten little druggies. What a shocker.

Anonymous said...

My love and compassion goes out to Mrs. Payne. How horrid these comments are and what purpose do they serve. Just let the courts review the situation and decide. Why does this have to be considered vengence and why is it assumed Mrs. Payne is seeking mass amounts of money and wants to destroy another family? If she gets one tiny piece of information from attorneys deposing these kids who lawyered up (and others who may not have told the whole truth because they were not under oath), that might possibly bring her the littlest bit of peace, it will be worth all of the headache and heartache. Maybe nothing underhand did happen. Who knows? But this is her only recourse to find out. You are in my prayers Mrs. Payne and I am so sorry you have to deal with such boorish and uncouth members of our community. I support you 100%. BTW- I would love to sign my name to this and not post anonymously but these people scare me.

Anonymous said...

I was going to write something very different, but after reading all these comments, especially the information on 8:39pm. All I can say is "you sow the wind, your reap the whirlwind". I find it difficult to be emphathetic towards this family.

Mrs. Payne we 100% support you, you are doing what all of us moms would do in the same situation.

Anonymous said...

9:17 I have not heard that proverb in a long time, but I think you meant "You reap what you sow"...could be wrong. Anyhow, I too like to say I support Mrs. Payne.

Anonymous said...

No, 9:17 is correct. It refers to how things can escalate: Reap what you sow is proportional.

I am with you Ms. Payne. And so sorry for all that you have endured.

Anonymous said...

IMO, as bad is it sounds, money is often the only language that people (and often companies) speak. People don't always care about people, but they always care about money.

That's why litigation is effective. I don't see a problem with Joe's mom using litigation to punish those involved.

Had the parents allowed the kids to take responsibility and suffer the consequences, and try to make amends to Joe's mom, things might be different right now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear 9:46 a.m.
You wrote:
"Mrs. Payne civil proceeding will afford her a chance to finally learn all the true details about that evening, the suit is the RESULT of the botched police investigation, the coroner's shoddy work, and the fact that Joe's "friends" lawyered themselves up. It's abundantly clear all she wants is INFORMATION.

Mrs. Payne we support you 100%, God Bless You!"

As for mentioning the other suit, people have told me various things about it, and offered various opinions on its relevance, but I'd prefer people not state facts about it; I don't have the documents.

Anonymous said...

SM: I understand that posting facts don't seem to be OK, problably because of the "legal bullying" you referred to.

How's this: I don't thinks it's OK to sue someone if a family is mourning the loss of a parent. This is not a fact but an opinion.

Anonymous said...

OMG SM what you're saying is we can't post facts about one lawsuit??? But yet you're allowing nasty opinions about Mrs. Payne? How is this fair? Clearly you have not recieved a call or mail from her lawyer..maybe you should.

I'm livid!

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear 8:03 p.m.
Thanks for recasting your comment.

Dear Livid, well, sorry you don't like my rules. If it would help ease the suffering of Ms. Payne, she could ask her lawyer to contact me. Maybe her lawyer has an argument that would tell me what I'm doing is wrong and unfair. I'm always open to listening.

Meanwhile, if you and others out there want to write about this other case, and detail the facts of it, and argue how it relates to the ongoing case of Joe's death, why don't you start a blog or website. And publish away. You don't have to rely on this blog, or rules that you see as unfair and arbitrary, to stop you.

AKA Soccer Mom said...

Dear April 2, 11:40 a.m.
Sorry, I didn't see your comment earlier. I know that Ms. Payne is a decent woman, and you lashed out. Well, this is a very painful case. People are under a lot of stress, and hurting a lot. So, if you "lashed out" as you say, I understand the context. You're sticking up for your friend.

Anonymous said...

Dear Soccer Mom:

As for me "sticking up for your friend" is not correct, I do not know Mrs. Payne or have ever met her. Part of the comment you removed was based on information I know about the case that was mentioned because my son graduated from Miramonte in 07 and I know the son and know of this case, I was inclined to write because I was outraged by some of the attacks towards Mrs. Payne.

You don't need to be a "friend" to "stick" up for someone who is doing the right thing.

Mrs. Payne my love and compassion for you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Marianne Payne is now a rich woman with over a $2.5 million win in the civil case.
Her ex husband, Joe's dad did not receive a penny because she made sure to sue him too so he would not benifit from her winnigs.
The saddest past is that Joe apparently dies of a heart attack - something that would have happened anywhere he was that night. WHY DIDN'T HIS MOTHER WALK ACROSS THE STREET & STOP THE PARTY??? Shame on her.

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