Local officials express concern about underage drinking in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Local officials express concern about underage drinking in Routt County

Zach Fridell

The end of the school year brings exciting events such as prom and graduation, but local law enforcement authorities said it also can mean an increase in underage drinking.

— The law enforcement officers in Routt County are tired of seeing underage drinkers come to the hospital, by ambulance or ditched by friends, after binge drinking has led to intoxication — or worse.

Although the problems persist throughout the year, it's the end of the school year with prom, graduation and countless other reasons to celebrate and party that can lead to underage drinking problems.

Routt County Sheriff's Of­­fice Investigator Ken Kling­er and evidence technician Mellisa Baumgartner said many of the teens they find at the underage parties aren't first-time drinkers.

At one party earlier this year, "out of six kids (interviewed), I'd say three of them are on the fringe of being an alcoholic already, and they're not even 18," Klinger said.

At least three calls in the past year in the county have led to an underage drinker ending up in the hospital, and Klinger and Baumgartner said they want youths to know they won't get in trouble if they call for help.

When the drinkers are afraid to call for help, it can lead to dangerous delays for law enforcement and medical responders. At one party last year, the "person calling in wouldn't give an actual location, wouldn't give a name of residence owner or anything at all," because she was scared of the repercussions, Klinger said.

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But there is also a part of the law that gives amnesty to underage drinkers who call 911 for help.

Baumgartner said that underage people who call 911 and give their name, age and location, and stay with the person, will not be issued a ticket for minor in possession or consumption of alcohol. That also includes people working together, for example, if one person was calling while another was giving aid.

Steamboat ordinance used

The Steamboat Springs Pol­ice Department officers are also busting parties with underage drinkers, and the Social Host Ordinance has proven helpful in a few of the cases.

Capt. Joel Rae said that in the first year the ordinance has been in effect, it's been used in six cases to ticket 13 people. Eight of those people pleaded guilty, four have cases pending and one ticket was dismissed at the recommendation of the police. The eight who pleaded guilty had tickets from $500 to $580, were required to do 24 hours of community service and had to complete an alcohol education course.

With those six cases where the Social Host Ordinance was used, officers also issued 64 tickets to minors for possessing or consuming alcohol.

Rae said all 13 people who were issued social host tickets were 18 to 20 years old.

"So this is the typical out-of-college, underage person hosting underage drinking parties," he said.

Rae said the businesses in town also are helping to crack down. When spot alcohol compliance checks were started several years ago, 90 percent of the businesses failed, he said.

In recent checks, 90 to 100 percent of the businesses have passed.

There are no local treatment centers for children with substance abuse problems, Klinger and Baumgartner said, and no local teen abuse support groups such as those found in larger cities.

Local mental health advocate Ronna Autrey said there are therapists and other ways to help the juveniles, but for inpatient treatment for alcoholism and a number of other problems, Front Range hospitals are the closest available options. Autrey said some locals are starting to work on a solution, but nothing is finalized. People taken to detox are taken to a room in the Routt County Jail.

Parental involvement

Although no parents have recently been charged in the county or city for their involvement in underage drinking, Rae said they could play a large role in stopping the drinking.

"I think the biggest thing that is going to help combat the underage drinking program is parents, and parents being parents," Rae said. "Being involved with their kids, knowing where their kids are and knowing what they're doing."

Autrey agreed and said that often parents aren't taking the problem seriously enough.

"I just think there are a lot of parents that are ignoring their problems and not looking at what's going on with their kids," she said. "I just think that parents aren't clamping down on this enough."

— To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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