Ric and Jeannette Torchon have started a foundation that they never wished would be necessary. They did it because they don't want other parents to get the same kind of phone call they got at about 3 a.m. Dec. 2.
With the toxicology report is pending, AJ Torchon, a UC Santa Barbara sophomore from Novato, is believed to have ingested a combination of alcohol and non-prescription drugs that led to his death on Dec. 1.
The mission of the AJ Torchon Foundation is to provide counseling to college students about the challenges and pressures of college life, especially dealing with drinking and drugs.
"It's not the lack of education available," Ric said. "It's the feeling of immunity they have. ... He expected to wake up in the morning."
Ric Torchon said it's been a challenge to gather accurate details of what happened that night in Isla Vista, the place where so many UCSB students live and party. It was an ex-girlfriend of AJ's who made the first call to the Torchon's home in Novato, followed about 30 minutes later by a Santa Barbara County Sheriff's deputy. Two Novato police officers showed up at the Torchon's door that night to inform them of the tragic news they'd already heard.
What really happened?
Ric said his son, formerly a star student and musician at Marin School of the Arts, was "probably at some party and was whooping it up like college students do, and the probably said, 'I gotta get me some of that.' ... From what was suspect right now, it was a street drug of some kind."
Details beyond that are sketchy.
"I talked to five of his friends and got five different stories," Ric said. "... Nobody is talking because they don't want to get in trouble."
Later Sunday morning, Ric was reading all the Facebook posts from AJ's friends — including ones that said "RIP AJ" — and decided to acknowledge what happened on his own Facebook page. He credited the Santa Barbara County Coroner's office for being compassionate and helpful during the traumatic hours after the news.
Ric said he remembers hearing Novato resident Sue Hunt-LeMay speak a few years about what it was like to lose her son in an alcohol-related crash. Alex Hunt and Scott Van Hootegem died Nov. 12, 2005, when Van Hootegem's truck hit a tree on Indian Valley Road after they had left a party. There is still a makeshift memorial plaque attached to the tree, which sits about 10 feet from the side of the road.
"I remember hearing her talk and saying, 'Man, I don't want to be that parent,'" Ric said. "That's the thing now. We don't want another parent to have to go through what we just went through."
Ric said the educational efforts in local schools about drugs and alcohol are very good, but something has to be done about the brazen confidence some kids have that they won't get hurt.
"When were kids, we think we're immortal. We think we're indestructible," he said. "If we didn't have the education we have, it would be much worse, so that's not the problem."
When a student goes off to college and feels pressure to be accepted by new friends, there is often a temptation to be a competitive partier. "It's that idea that you can drink somebody else under the table or whatever," Ric said. "You have colleges that are overwhelmed and they don't have proper counseling. They need to triage the kids — they are homesick and having a tough time emotionally. They're feeling the pressure."
The Torchons set a goal of raising $5,000 through the foundation so that some sort of counseling efforts can be implemented. They reached that total in just two days and have eclipsed $10,000.
"We appreciate the response we've had," he said. "Maybe we can do some good (with the foundation) toward this."