BURLINGAME -- There is nothing the Studebakers can do to get their 19-year-old son, Brett, back, but they have been fighting to make sure his death after a night of drinking aboard a party bus won't be in vain.
They smiled, sobbed and cheered a victory Tuesday. Gov. Jerry Brown two days earlier signed into law AB 45, which cracks down on underage drinking aboard party buses.
"The party is over," said Doug Studebaker in front of the Burlingame home he once shared with his son. "Our youth are valuable. The business of making money on underage drinking is through."
AB 45, sponsored by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, makes party bus operators and riders responsible for preventing underage drinking on the increasingly popular parties on wheels. The linchpin to the legislation is the requirement for a chaperon -- at least 25 years old and responsible for the partiers -- who would have to make sure no minors are drinking.
Hill took up the issue after Brett Studebaker death on Feb. 6, 2010. He spent several hours drinking aboard a party bus for a friend's birthday.
At the end of the "booze cruise," as Hill has called it, Studebaker got in his Audi and was headed south on Highway 101 in San Mateo when he crashed. His blood alcohol content was more than three times the .08 limit for drivers who can legally drink. Studebaker was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.
Doug, 59, and Linda Studebaker, 60, agree their son bears some responsibility for the crash because he chose to get behind the wheel after drinking. But the party bus company could have stopped him, they said.
"Brett would be the first person to say, 'I am accountable for my actions,'" said the teen's father. "But an industry must be held accountable and not make a mockery of underage drinking laws that are there to protect our youth."
Hill, whose bill takes effect Jan. 1 and drew support from the Greater California Livery Association -- which represents limousine and bus companies -- said the legislation could have saved another life had it become law sooner. Natasha Noland, 25, of Santa Cruz died July 27 after she fell from a moving party bus on Highway 17 near Los Gatos. Noland was fighting with a 20-year-old woman and both had been drinking, police say.
According to the California Highway Patrol Noland's death remains under investigation. It's not clear when authorities will finish their probe.
"All of the passengers aboard that bus were intoxicated," said Hill. "The Brett Studebaker law closes a loophole in current law that we believe has enabled underage drinking to proliferate."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.