Reporting from Walnut Creek, Calif. — Siblings who served alcohol at an unsupervised high school party where a boy collapsed and later died were sentenced to community service and placed on two years' probation Tuesday during a somber hearing in which the boy's mother blamed them for the death.
Patrick "P.J." Gabrielli, 18, and his sister, Alexandra "Ali" Gabrielli, 20, at whose Orinda home the party was held, listened gravely as a prosecutor read a statement by the mother of Joseph Loudon, 16, the high school sophomore who died after attending the May 23 event.
Marianne Payne said she believed her son's death was the "result" of the Gabriellis' "actions and inactions" that night. Although the siblings initially waived their Miranda rights and spoke to police, Payne said they later refused to cooperate with investigators.
"The silence has left us without answers," wrote Payne, who said through the prosecutor that she was too emotional to appear because Tuesday marked the nine-month anniversary of her middle son's death. "There has been built a great wall of silence."
Joseph, described by friends as witty, athletic and spiritual, collapsed in a hallway after spending less than two hours at the party. Witnesses described him as bluish and said he did not appear to be breathing.
A girl revived him with CPR, but no one called 911. Most of the partygoers, including the Gabriellis, did not witness him collapse, investigators said. Joseph told friends he would be fine, and they helped him to a bedroom, where he choked on his vomit.
An autopsy revealed that Joseph had a blood-alcohol level of 0.03%, the equivalent of about a beer. Medical examiners listed the cause of death as "undetermined" and suggested he suffered from a previously undetected heart ailment.
The Gabriellis' mother and stepfather were out of town the night of the alcohol-infused party. P.J. Gabrielli was then a junior in high school, and his sister a college sophomore. Joseph, who had told his mother he was going to the movies, lived across the street from the Gabriellis, and he and his two brothers grew up with them.
Payne said she wished she could have foreseen "future dangers lurking below the surface of our seemingly idyllic community," an affluent, wooded town bordered by the Oakland and Berkeley hills. "Little did I know," she wrote, "that they were right across the street."
The Gabriellis pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation of providing alcohol to minors, a plea that is treated as an admission of guilt for sentencing but cannot be used against them in a civil lawsuit.
They were each fined $1,000, told to perform 200 hours of community service and warned they could face jail if they violated any law during the next two years.
Suspicions have long swirled around Joseph's death, in part because of lapses by investigators. Police failed to thoroughly search the Gabriellis' home, and Joseph's iPhone was missing for months. His mother and uncle suspected it had been stolen and scrubbed of incriminating information. The phone was later found in the couch in the Gabriellis' home.
An initial autopsy found that Joseph had died in part from ingesting a drug that can be used to treat erectile dysfunction, a finding that produced speculation that someone had drugged him. Two months passed before a transplant bank alerted his parents that it administered the drug to Joseph's body as part of the tissue retrieval process.
The failure to pinpoint a cause of death also added to the distrust. "Healthy sixteen year olds don't just die," an anonymous poster wrote on a local blog last week. "Something is rotten in Orinda."
William Loudon, Joseph's father, did not attend the Contra Costa County Superior Court session. He has said previously that he did not hold the Gabriellis responsible for Joseph's death.
Editors' note: Dolan wrote a first-person account of the effect of Loudon's death in The Times in November.