Party House Mom Case Wraps Up

The party house mom’s trial has wrapped up in St. Augustine, Florida, according to a News4Jax article. In the first prosecution of its kind, Diane Santarelli, 52 is on trial for two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of two teens who left her home after drinking and drugs. She is also facing one count of hosting an open house party and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The defense rested its case on Thursday, May 20 in regards to the Florida drunk driving crash. During the trial, two of the teens at a January 2009 party, Jessy Pitts, 18, and Taylor Brennan, 17, left the party in a 1991 Ford Thunderbird. The car was northbound on S.R. 13 when it left the road, hit a guard rail and trees and then caught fire. The two teens burned to death. Pitts was found to have a blood alcohol concentration of .18 – more than twice the legal limit. The teens were Bartram Trail High School students and members of Celebration Church.

The defense had argued that few in attendance of the January 2009 party were invited guests, but a teen testified for the prosecution that Pitts, Brennan, and others were invited for a “ManFest” January 11, by Santarelli’s daughter while Ms. Santarelli’s husband was out of town. The defense also tried to convince jurors that Pitts had been consuming alcohol before the party.

One teen on the stand testified he saw Santarelli taking shots with Pitts. Another teen testified she saw the adult woman smoking marijuana. A receipt proved that Santarelli made a run to a nearby liquor store. Santarelli’s attorney tried to show that she didn’t encourage kids to drink or do drugs and that she was concerned about how they would get home.

Santarelli’s case is precedent setting. It is the first time a person has been charged in the state with manslaughter after hosting a house party for teens where drugs and alcohol were available.

Florida social host laws have generally applied to businesses. A bar that serves an underage drinker is breaking the law and a person can be charged with a misdemeanor of the second degree. For a misdemeanor of the second degree, state law defines the imprisonment not to exceed 60 days under Florida law 775.082.

But when the social host is serving alcohol at home, they can be liable for accidents and injuries that occur after the party where alcohol and drugs were served to minors. The liability has never before extended to a manslaughter charge. No matter how wrong this woman was to serve alcohol to minors and encourage partying at her house, we are a country of laws and the law just isn’t there. In this case, she is facing up to 31 years in prison.