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Prom season - Authorities on lookout for alcohol

April 21, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - As prom and graduation season approaches, local law enforcement officials have a message for teens - and their parents.

By all means celebrate, but we'll be watching.

Several local agencies conducted a news conference Friday to warn teens and their parents that alcohol and these end-of-high school celebrations don't mix - and that they will be enforcing state laws on underage drinking not only with teens, but with the adults responsible for them.

"We want to focus on the parents," said James Conrad, coordinator of underage drinking prevention programs for the Washington County Health Department. "Parents and students have to take the brunt of the responsibility."

That means parents shouldn't permit their teens to go to unsupervised parties, he said, nor should they provide alcohol at parties in their homes.

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"Sometimes parents are just happy to get this 12 years over, but if you make a bad choice it affects the rest of your life," Conrad said.

He warned that parents shouldn't allow alcohol at a party "and tell them you're gonna take the keys."

Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore said deputies will be doing compliance checks on package sales of alcohol, and will conduct saturation patrols - including checking on parties to make sure there's no alcohol.

"You can certainly celebrate and have just as much fun without the alcohol," Mullendore said.

Anyone caught providing alcohol to minors will be prosecuted, Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong said.

"We will enforce and prosecute those who will illegally provide alcohol to others," he said.

Fighting underage drinking is "an endless, ongoing task," said Ed Masood, supervisor of Fine Arts, Physical Education and Athletics for Washington County Public Schools. "Often for a number of kids, this will be the last occasion they ever celebrate," he said, noting that alcohol still is "the drug of choice" for teens.

"We're trying not to reduce underage drinking, but eliminate it," Masood said. To parents, he said, "we don't need you to be their 'friend' and be supportive of their activities" if they involve alcohol.

"The police can't raise your kids; the schools can't raise your kids," said Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, who has a teenage son Smith said would be attending his first prom this year. City police will make frequent checks with liquor stores within the city, and will be conducting traffic stops, he said. "We won't say where," he added.

While officials routinely warn about the dangers of drinking and driving, "there's not a kid out there that believes (an accident) will happen to them," Smith said.

But a drunken driving charge alone "will impact a lot," he said, including the potential loss of a driver's license and high automobile insurance rates.

In addition to prom and graduation parties, Conrad said that young people frequently head to Ocean City, Md., right after graduation - and party there.

"The same things apply down in Ocean City," he said.

"There are choices to be made, and they need to be made now - not prom night, not graduation night or in Ocean City," Strong said. He recounted he had received a call from the hospital on the night his own daughter had been driving home from a party.

"The good news was that the person calling was my daughter," he said, saying her car had been struck by a drunken driver. She was all right, and needed him to come to the hospital to get her.

The car, however, was a total loss.

"We want this to be a good time," Strong said. "But the keys are in the hands of the young people and their parents."

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