Group forms to curb underage drinking

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

&uot;A youth’s life taken by underage drinking is a reflection of our lack of courage to act…&uot; that slogan has become the driving force for the city of Greenville’s Underage Drinking Coalition.

According to statistics gathered by the American Medical Association, as many as 360,000 of the nation’s $12 million undergraduates will eventually die from alcohol related problems, many which begin in college. This is more than the number of students that will receive Master’s and Ph. D.’s in the United States. Middle and high school students account for 35 percent of all wine coolers in the United States and they also consume 1.1 billion cans of beer nationally. Alcohol is also a factor in 33 percent of suicides, 50 percent of homicides, 62 percent of assaults, 68 percent of manslaughter, 50 percent of head injuries and 41 percent of traffic fatalities.

That’s twice the number of auto crashes involves youth and alcohol, as opposed to those 21 and older.

&uot;I’ve been working for many, many years,&uot; said David Brantley, head master of Fort Dale Academy. &uot;I’ve been concerned about underage drinking and I’ve seen it get worse in the area.&uot;

The report from the AMA also states that about three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives.

For teenagers in the surrounding area, that statistic became a truism as teens were killed in drunk driving accidents in Troy and then later on in Brewton.

Death is not the only problem teenagers that choose to drink underage face.

One to two-thirds of all &uot;date rapes&uot; occurring among teens and college students involve the use of alcohol. Also, one-half of the girls that have sexual intercourse under the age of 17 are intoxicated.

&uot;Our goal is that we are not out to get young people for doing this,&uot; said Brantley. &uot;We just want to keep them safe and help protect them from the dangers of alcohol. I haven’t seen any problems with it in this area, but in other area’s where I’ve been it has been a major concern.&uot;

The underage drinking coalition was brought to the Butler County area after members of the city felt that it was needed. Brantley was one of the driving forces behind it after seeing the work of Dr. Pat Taylor.

Taylor, who is the head master of St. Paul’s Episcopal School is the coordinator of the underage drinking task force in the Mobile/Baldwin County Area.

&uot;We met with the Mayor, Chief Ingram, Councilman Ed Sims and Gail Slagley, who used to be a councilperson and is now on the coalition, and I could tell at that meeting that they are sincere about addressing this problem,&uot; said Brantley. &uot;I believe the parents in this community will be appreciative for the work we are trying to do. Our coalition consists of about 25 people and is a cross-section of people that are affiliated with young people or have an interest in young people. We have been meeting for close to a year now.&uot;

Monday night, the coalition got a major shot in the arm when the Greenville City Council approved a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking within the city of Greenville.

&uot;We are not out there to make examples of certain students or families,&uot; said Starla Jones, counselor at Fort Dale Academy. &uot;We are out to spread the message that you don’t have to participate in things like this to feel accepted.&uot;

At Monday’s city council meeting, Ingram made an underage drinking coalition presentation to the council.

&uot;The law defines underage drinking as any person under the age of 21 who consumes and alcoholic beverage,&uot; said Ingram. &uot;A child under the age of 18 will be taken into custody. Years ago, if a police officer came by and caught a person underage drinking they would pour their beer out and tell them to get on home. That’s not the message we are going to send. Kids are drinking in the parking lots of the schools and we are going to be like Barney Fife, we’re going to nip that in the bud.&uot;

According to Ingram, if a person aged 18, 19 or 20 is caught underage drinking they will be arrested and taken to the Butler County jail and have their parents or a legal guardian called. They will also have to be bonded out of the jail.

For someone under 18 that is caught drinking, then they will be entered into the juvenile court.

&uot;The laws are in place and they will just be enforced,&uot; said Ingram. &uot;The law in the state of Alabama says that anyone caught drinking under the age of 21 is in violation.&uot;

One of the issues that the coalition is trying to bring to the forefront is field or pasture parties.

In Monday’s presentation, Ingram stated that parents who host these parties and take the keys from the teens in attendance have put themselves at risk legally and morally.

&uot;If a kid gets the keys and drives away from the party, the parents have opened themselves up to a huge liability,&uot; said Ingram in the presentation Monday night.

The coalition plans to have a media campaign and explain their presence as well as, according to Brantley, have a billboard where there is a phone number where people can call in.

&uot;No one has expressed any negative thoughts about it,&uot; said Brantley. &uot;We’ve had some express appreciation for what we are trying to do. And you can tell a difference in the schools. The students are openly talking about the parties or printing t shirts for them. No one has openly expressed any negative thoughts on what’s going on.&uot;

Last year, members of the underage drinking coalition sponsored a presentation in which speakers informed a group of about 125 parents about the dangers of alcohol and ways to tell if their children are using alcohol.

Two years ago, before the program came to fruition, Brantley attempted to confront the problem head on in a letter sent home to parents: &uot;In spite of what you may be told by your child, most of the students at our school are not allowed out late and are adequately supervised and checked at all times. If you supervise your child in this manner you are not alone.&uot;

The Greenville Underage Drinking Coalition consists of members of the ministry, the education system, the law enforcement fields and members of the media. It’s a 25 person group that has been meeting off and on for the better part of the year.

The coalition has also met with the members of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving

&uot;Our goal is to make parents feel like they are not alone when they make a decision,&uot; said Jones. &uot;We want the children to feel like they don’t have to participate in parties and such to feel accepted.&uot;