Kevin Adkins was just looking to cut loose.
It was July 9, the night he moved out of his parents’ home and just a few months after graduating from Mesquite High School in Gilbert.
Joining other young people at a house stocked with beer and liquor, he took shot after shot of hard liquor until he passed out. He barely stirred as his housemates shaved his head and legs in a room full of laughing partygoers.
Less than three hours later, in the early morning of July 10, a doctor pronounced him dead.
His father is left hoping others will learn from his son’s fatal decision to binge drink, even as he struggles to understand the events surrounding that tragic night.
"I don’t think people realize you can die from this," said Barry Adkins of Gilbert. "I don’t see the difference between this and someone getting behind the wheel."
While the elder Adkins is troubled by some of the circumstances surrounding his son’s death, he said he isn’t going to dwell on them, preferring instead to concentrate on the message he delivered at his 18-year-old son’s funeral.
"I am convinced something good is going to come of this," Barry Adkins said.
Thousands of college-age kids heading back to Arizona campuses this week are a ripe target for Adkins’ message.
Kevin Adkins wasn’t in college, but students between 18 and 21 account for about 1,700 alcohol-related deaths a year in the nation, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It’s the age group where binge drinking is highest, according to the institute.
More often than not, binge drinkers end up with nothing worse than an upset stomach and a serious hangover, but the "party ‘til you puke" attitude of so many young people can stop their breathing or leave them choking to death on their vomit.
"His body just couldn’t take it. These kids just don’t realize what can happen," said Esther Rita Adkins, Kevin’s mother.
Some heavy drinking took place in the house in the 2500 block of East Stottler Drive in Gilbert that July night. Adkins’ good time ended with a couple of partygoers frantically performing CPR on him.
The house was a gathering place for underage drinkers and minors. It was leased by 28-year-old Mikey Jones. Gilbert police Lt. Joe Ruet said Jones could face a charge of furnishing or giving alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Court records show that police were investigating it as a negligent homicide, a crime that carries a punishment of up to three years in prison, but Ruet said that the more serious charge is not likely.
In an interview with the Tribune, Jones said he knew it was wrong to provide the alcohol, but at the same time tried to care for anyone who drank too much by requiring them to either sleep over or find a ride with a sober driver.
The incident has shaken him and is a lesson learned, which he said he’s passed on to kids who have since approached him about buying them alcohol.
"Wait until you’re old enough to drink legally," Jones said. "As far as I’m concerned, I’m done with the young kid alcohol thing at my house."
Barry Adkins said his son was looking to experience life and move out on his own. He came across an opportunity to live somewhere rent free.
Kevin Adkins, who was going to room with three other people, hadn’t met the group of guys he was going to live with until shortly before his death.
"These weren’t his regular friends," Barry Adkins said.
His parents were due to go over and meet the guys on July 10.
Kevin Adkins and four others spent about four hours in the Salt River Recreation area July 9, where witnesses reported he drank three to nine beers, according to a police report.
When he returned he picked up his bed and dresser from his dad’s house and moved them into his new place.
Jones said there was no formal party planned for the evening but they were ready to welcome anyone who wanted to come and hang out in their garage and drink from a keg, something that occurred often.
Police serving a search warrant also found three large bottles of liquor, which Jones said had been left by other guests over the months.
Kevin Adkins joined the gathering about 9:30 p.m. and started with beer.
About 11:30, Adkins began taking shots, some of them from a double-shot glass.
Anthony Fierro, a 19-yearold partygoer, told police Adkins was "pounding them, he kept shooting them," the report said.
Fierro told police Adkins wanted to feel welcome.
Barry Adkins said he has since learned that his son became very affectionate when he drank, telling people he loved them and hugging them.
Jones said Adkins began getting loud so they asked him to sit down.
He fell backward out of a green lawn chair on the driveway.
People reported that he vomited his last shot and went to bed a short time later, about 2 a.m. on July 10, singing as he undressed.
’ALL IN FUN’
Jones said he got the idea to shave Adkins’ head while the 18-year-old slept. Most of the people went into his room to watch, according to police reports.
"It was all in fun. He was a pretty fun-going guy," Jones said. "If he would have woke up and found it, he would have laughed his butt off."
Adkins was lying on his side and rolled over slightly to look for the sound of the shaver and then closed his eyes again, the report says.
One witness told police he didn’t look good at that point.
His roommates and others kept checking on him and at about 4 a.m. someone realized he wasn’t breathing, his lips were blue and he was pale.
Queen Creek resident Katherine Talbot, 19, told police she was in her truck and about to leave when someone rushed outside and said, "That kid in the house isn’t breathing."
That is when the rush began to get the juveniles out of the house, a fact that particularly bothers Adkins’ parents because they believe that caused a delay in calling paramedics.
Jones said kicking people out was not an attempt to cover themselves.
"I just figured I didn’t want a bunch of people crowding an ambulance," he said.
Two people began performing CPR. The Maricopa County Forensic Science Center has not yet released its autopsy report indicating the cause of death.
Jones said that earlier in the evening Adkins was "drunk dialing" — making calls to friends while he was intoxicated.
He left messages for his sister and mom.
He told his mother he loved her, he was going to take more shots of Jack Daniel’s and he couldn’t wait for her to come over to meet his friends.
He ended the message with "sweet dreams."
She listened to it and erased it. Adkins’ aunt then showed up at her door to give her the news.
"I feel like I’ve got that comfort a little bit that he called me and told me how much he loved me," Esther Rita Adkins said.
In a 45-second message to his sister, he told her he’d just taken "six or seven shots in a row" and then handed the phone to Jones.
"He’ll be fine," Jones said.