Steamboat Springs New Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch says underage drinking is a problem in his town, and he plans to do something about it. Birch is focusing his efforts on cracking down on those who supply the booze to kids.
"If you're buying beer for kids, it's not a good idea," said Birch, who became the town's police chief last month. "If there is any adult that is providing alcohol to minors - without the parent's permission and without the parent being present - they could find themselves to be the focus of a felony investigation."
The stern warning came after Hayden police broke up two "underage drinking parties," Birch said.
On Dec. 31, police found seven juveniles drinking alcohol at a residence in the Golden Meadows subdivision. Birch said court summonses likely will be issued related to that party.
On Dec. 26, a party at 414 Clover Circle resulted in the arrest of 19-year-old Willy Najera for possession and consumption of alcohol and for violating a restraining order. Najera lives at the home and is serving probation for his role in the branding of Hayden juveniles last March with a heated coat hanger.
"The investigation is pending, with the goal being (to find out) who was purchasing alcohol for minors and to take the appropriate actions," Birch said.
The Dec. 26 party was broken up about 9 p.m. after a neighbor called police to report the party. A car that was leaving the party when officers arrived contained juveniles in possession of alcohol, Birch said. Police officers then went to the party and found about 12 people in the home. Some were intoxicated, he said.
"There were four vehicles associated with the people at the party, meaning they were coming and going and driving," Birch said.
Only one person at the party was 21 or older, Birch said. He said officers still are investigating who supplied the alcohol, and he would not say whether the 21-year-old is a suspect.
"Underage drinking in this town is a problem, and the issue of adults providing alcohol - to me, as the chief of police - is unacceptable," Birch said. "We'll present a comprehensive case to the District Attorney's Office and seek charges against the adult that provided beer in this case."
Birch said he sat down with the parents of the juveniles involved and gave them copies of the state statutes that explained why the police were obligated to take action.
"I want to emphasize that our policy at the Hayden Police Department is to take action," he said.
Najera could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, and his probation officer refused to comment.
Najera was sentenced in August to five days in jail and two years of unsupervised probation and ordered to read a book about hazing and write letters of apology to the families of four boys who were branded. The incident took place in March at an unsupervised party where alcohol was present.
Najera also was ordered to refrain from consuming alcohol and to abide by a restraining order, which bars him from having contact with many of those involved in the branding incident.