Man Behind NJ Disability Law Dead At 22
Parker Drake was a young man who was thrust into the spotlight in 2015 after bullies cruelly convinced him to jump into the Atlantic Ocean. Afterward, he inspired legislation that strengthened protections for those with disabilities.
He passed away from unknown causes on November 28, 2018. He was found in his apartment in Freehold Township, New Jersey.
Parker had autism, diabetes, and Tourette’s syndrome, as well as struggles with anxiety. He deeply cared for animals, and had multiple dogs. He wasn’t often far from his Lightning McQueen toy from the movie Cars. Drake was a graduate of Howell High School, and was employed by Walmart’s automotive department.
On February 25, 2015, when Drake was 19 years old, two young men who were pretending to be friends with Drake said they’d give him 20 bucks and a couple packs of cigarettes if he jumped into the Atlantic Ocean and stayed in for one minute. At the time, the water was a frigid 30 degrees, a temperature that can kill someone in the water in under 15 minutes.
Drake took the dare, and jumped in. Then he fought for his life.
His insulin pump froze when he was in the ocean. He struggled to breathe as waves crashed over his head, swallowing salt water as he fought to get to shore.
His “friends,” Nicholas Formica, 20, and Christopher Tilton, 19, ignored his pleas for help and took video of him instead, laughing while they did so. They then posted the video on Snapchat. Someone else recorded the Snap on their phone and showed it to Drake’s mother, Christine Marshall.
Marshall went to the police and tried to get them arrested, but discovered that what they’d one wasn’t technically illegal — after all, Drake had willingly agreed to it and was not a minor. So Marshall and Drake filed a complaint against the two men instead, hoping to get some sort of justice at least. They also wanted to raise awareness and try to enact stronger laws that would protect those with disabilities from deliberate acts of harm.
Drake eventually testified in court against them, and Formica and Tilton were both found guilty of endangering the welfare of an incompetent person. Tilton, who had no previous record, was fined $506 and ordered to do 60 days of community service at a place for disabled people. Formica, who had a previous criminal record, was going to get 90 days in jail until Drake stepped in and thought he should get “something else” instead. He had seen Formica’s girlfriend crying in court and felt bad for her. So Formica instead was ordered to do 90 days of community service, also at a facility for disabled people.
In spite of everything that had happened to him, Drake had compassion for others, even those who had wronged him. And even though he suffered from terrible anxiety, nightmares, and post-traumatic stress disorder after the event, he was still willing to share his story in the hopes that it would lead to laws that would prevent it from happening to someone else.
And it did lead to a new law. After hearing about Drake’s ordeal, Senators Steve Sweeney and Robert Singer proposed a bill that would make risking the life of someone with a developmental disability a second-degree crime, which would be punishable by five to 10 years in prison. In January of 2016, almost a year after Drake’s near-death experience, then-Governor Chris Christie signed the bill into law.
“He had such a kind, wonderful soul,” his mom said. “Everybody would say he had an old, kind soul. He just wanted to be loved and accepted and love others. All he wanted was for people to see beyond his disabilities. A lot of people couldn’t understand him, and that really broke his heart.”
“I will miss you my sweet Boo Boo Bear until we meet again in heaven,” his mom wrote on Facebook. “I love you with all of my heart. Rest In Peace my angel.”