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Mom Whose Daughter Died After Drinking Too Much Goes After Village Bars

By Andrea Swalec | April 26, 2013 7:03am

GREENWICH VILLAGE — A young actress who appeared on "Law & Order" died late last year after drinking heavily at local bars — and her mother is asking bar staff and police to help make Village nightlife safer after the tragic incident.

Shana Dowdeswell, 23, died on Dec. 12 of acute and chronic alcoholism after she collapsed on her family's Minetta Street stoop early the morning of Dec. 7, authorities and relatives said. Police told her mother, Laurie Smith, that Dowdeswell had spent two hours at nearby bars before heading home about 2 a.m.

A dogwalker found Dowdeswell passed out outside her home, and she was rushed to Beth Israel Medical Center, Smith explained. The petite 5-foot-2, 115-pound woman's blood alcohol content clocked in at a shocking 0.39 — nearly five times the state's legal limit for driving — stunning the doctors who tried to revive her, her mother said Thursday.

"I don't even understand the blood alcohol level here," Smith recalled an emergency room doctor telling her and her husband, Roger Dowdeswell. The actress died after a week of medical supervision, relatives said.

A woman weighing 120 pounds would hit that BAC level after consuming 10 drinks in an hour, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. At that level, one's heart rate and breathing can be impaired.

Dowdeswell was a Professional Performing Arts School graduate who played Anne Frank at the acclaimed Papermill Playhouse, appeared in multiple "Law & Order" episodes and has a bit part in "The Big Wedding," currently in theaters. 

Her death was ruled "a natural death due to complications of acute and chronic alcoholism," a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner's office said Thursday.

Still grieving for her daughter, Smith — a 20-year Village resident who runs an acting agency — now wants bar workers and other patrons to help prevent dangerous binge drinking on the neighborhood's bar-heavy streets.

"My daughter wasn't saying no, but was anyone looking and saying, 'This shouldn't be happening?'" asked Smith, 60. "What I feel occurred to my daughter that night is she was being served too much alcohol."

Smith said that she will soon attend a meeting of local bar owners to ask them to adopt common-sense measures to prevent excessive drunkenness.

"It could be as simple as, 'Here's a shot, here's a glass of water,'" she said. "It doesn't serve anyone, including the bar, for people to get that drunk."

Dowdeswell, who was born in her former professional tennis player father's native Zimbabwe, began frequenting bars on Bleecker Street, MacDougal Street and West Eighth Street as a teen, her mother said.

"She probably had issues around alcohol that we weren't aware of," Smith said.

On Wednesday night, at a community meeting Smith attended, Sixth Precinct police said  they vigilantly patrol bars and clubs to keep all patrons safe.

"We make sure bars are properly staffed, properly secured and are operating properly," the precinct's commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo, said, noting officers had issued 150 summonses this year to bars caught admitting or serving people under 21.

Smith said that as she looks into having a plaque installed on her block to memorialize her daughter, she wants to help prevent future tragedies.

"I just wanted to see if there's anything we can salvage from the sadness of all of this," she said.