21 shots mark KC man's last birthday

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Alberto took 21 shots to the gut. They all would hit his mother right in the heart.

Raquel Sears' son died after performing the increasingly common "21 on 21" ritual, downing that many shots on that significant birthday.

The day was supposed to be a celebration. It was April 7. After a barbecue with family, Alberto Lima Betancourt went out with friends to a bar.

Three days later, Raquel Sears, his mother, bent over his hospital bed and kissed him goodbye.

"I told him I loved him and that he was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said Friday. "And then they took him away. They took his organs. I'll never see my son again."

The Independence, Mo., man died of alcohol poisoning, according to Sugar Creek, Mo.' s police chief, Herb Soule. Betancourt's blood alcohol content tested 0.459.

"That's six times the legal limit," Soule said Friday. "Before this happened, I didn't know about 21 shots on your 21st birthday. I know now. I'm not a crusader or a teetotaler, but parents need to be learning about it, too."

It's a trend that has swept colleges and bars across the country for several years. Young people out celebrating the milestone birthday are determined to down the same number of drinks as their age.

"I think what happens is people know other people who've done it and think it's no big deal," said Kenneth Sher, a curators' professor of psychological science at the University of Missouri who has studied extreme 21st birthday drinking. "I don't think people realize."