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Bailey Hamilton wasn't out for a wild evening. It was a bright Sunday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend in rural Milaca, a sliver of land in central Minnesota about an hour north of Minneapolis. The 17-year-old had just graduated from high school a few days prior, and was now driving over to his cousin's house to spend the night around a bonfire.
At about 10:30 p.m., his friend Mike Iler showed up, and someone suggested they go to a graduation party hosted by classmate Megan Kolb that they'd heard about on Facebook.
Hamilton had been aware of past parties at Kolb's house, he says, but had never attended one. Though the two had graduated together, they ran in different crowds, and had hardly exchanged a word over the years.
Hamilton and his friends arrived at the party around 11 p.m. They drove past Kolb's house and into an adjacent field, where cars were already parked, and walked down to a bonfire. At least 40 people were in attendance, says Hamilton, many of them drinking and making no attempt to be inconspicuous.
By the time they arrived, Hamilton had already consumed two beers and a pull of Blueberry UV. He brought with him a half-full 1.75-liter bottle of vodka.
"I started talking to people and I started drinking," he says. "It didn't taste that good, so I sort of slammed it."
In about two hours, Hamilton had almost emptied the bottle, at one point chugging it as others cheered him on. He found himself unable to keep his balance, and staggered over to a nearby truck for support. Hamilton had dabbled with alcohol before, but says he's not "a drinker," and had never experienced anything like this.
"He was just stumbling," his friend Charles Skogman recalls. "He can't stand up straight. He goes to the side, has to catch himself. He has to hold onto a truck. He couldn't really talk that good."
Iler decided it was time to drive Hamilton home. But he was so drunk it was difficult to maneuver him to the car. He fell over at least twice before throwing his arms around the shoulders of his friends and being carried out.
"After I fell the second time I must have blacked out or something, because I don't remember getting up to the car," Hamilton says.
Iler pulled into his friend's driveway around 1 a.m. Hamilton had taken a turn for the worse, now incoherent, vomiting, and barely conscious. Skogman woke up Hamilton's parents, Chad and Kim, and explained what had happened. They walked outside to find their son passed out in the driveway.
"He didn't move," says Kim. "It took my husband and his two friends to get him into the car, because he was basically dead weight. He couldn't help you at all. You couldn't wake him up. You couldn't get him to talk to you. Anything."
Hamilton suffers from a severe blood disorder and was on medications, says Kim, so she feared this wasn't something her son could simply sleep off. "I told my husband, we have to call 911, like now."
An ambulance brought Bailey to the emergency room at Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton. By the time he arrived, his blood alcohol content was .21. His blood pressure had dropped. The doctors hooked him up to an oxygen tank and multiple IV bags.
They tried to wake him up, at one point screaming his name into his ear, but Hamilton didn't flinch. After a few hours, a doctor brought Kim into the waiting room, asked her to take a seat, and prepared her for the worst.
"Is my kid gonna be OK?" she asked.
"I don't know," the doctor replied.
Around 7:30 a.m., after Hamilton's BAC had dropped considerably, a doctor tried tickling his feet. Hamilton finally stirred, waking up in the hospital's trauma center with a bad headache and plenty of questions, including the most pressing: "Where's my shoes?"
Teenagers binge drinking at graduation parties isn't exactly shocking. But the unusual circumstances of this particular evening have made for big drama in the community surrounding Milaca.
The day after her son was rushed to the hospital, Kim Hamilton learned the occupations of Megan Kolb's parents. Her stepfather, Russ Jude, is a tribal investigator for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Her mother, Jan Jude, is the Mille Lacs County attorney, with jurisdiction over more than 25,000 people, including a large portion of the Ojibwe reservation. Both parents were home that night, but say they had no idea that kids were drinking on their property.
This isn't Jan's first brush with controversy. Most recently, Jude has been at odds with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribe over its request for more federal law enforcement. Jude has argued on behalf of the county that it's not necessary, but also that the 61,000-acre reservation was disestablished in the 1800s, and the tribal land is now only 4,000 acres.
"The Mille Lacs band doesn't feel like there has been a real open-hearted attitude toward them from the county attorney's office, and that's really unfortunate," says Gail Kulick, a former state representative who now lobbies for the band.