Study probes underage drinking

October 23, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Underage drinking resulted in one death, one accident and two near deaths in Shepherdstown during a six-month period last year, according to a Shepherdstown Police Department study.

The study was undertaken as part of a grant application to the U.S. Department of Justice, said Karen Hoff, executive director of the Clean-Focus Coalition in Jefferson County.

The study reviewed police reports from Jan. 1, 1996, to the end of June 1996 to see how many incidents involved underage drinking.


The drinking age nationwide is 21.

The fatality involved an underage person attempting to swim across the Potomac River while intoxicated, said Shepherdstown Police Chief Cecil Arnold.

There also were 13 acts of vandalism attributed to people under the age of 21 who had been drinking, Hoff said, along with 35 acts of disorderly conduct attributed to underage drinking.

Arnold and Hoff said they do not believe Shepherd College causes more of a problem than any other college would in a small town.

"College campuses have had problems with drinking since the beginning of time," Hoff said.

Arnold said it is not just college students, either. Some of those involved in underage drinking are Jefferson High School students, he said.

Arnold said he can remember when he was a Shepherd College student and attended beer keg parties. The drinking age for beer then was 18 in West Virginia, he said.

Arnold said drinking impairs people of any age and those under 21 are more prone to use bad judgment when drinking.

He is especially worried about those who drink and drive because they pose a danger to others as well as to themselves.

"Frankly, drinking causes our society a lot of problems, whether you're underage or not," Hoff said.

Arnold said the town police will work closely with the Shepherd College Police and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department to fight underage drinking.

But he said the solution may have to come more from changing the behavior of those who drink than from enforcement.

Part of a survey being conducted by the police department will try to determine what causes those under 21 to drink, he said.

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