As the weather warms up, and the hours of daylight increase, a new specie of wild life starts to appear in the rural areas of the county. Going about on two legs, except when being carried in by a vehicle with tires and a motor, these beings are amazing to watch. Secure that no one will ever find them (in the same part of a pasture that their parents and grandparents frequented), they consume alcoholic beverages, smoke, scuffle, and engage in the other tom foolery that has been known to identify young people in the spring since time immemorial.
It is doubtful that there are people in the community who are not aware that young adults are not to consume alcoholic beverages until they are twenty one years of age, unless in the immediate custody of their parents or guardians. Yet there is something about spring evenings, the inevitability of summer, and the proximity of graduation that seems to encourage forgetting that well known fact. During the week, plans are laid for the inevitable Friday or Saturday night party. It is well known that the police will be expecting a party, so, as long as the weather is conducive, the celebrants move out into the county. “The rock”, just over the line in Fisher County, is probably the best known party spot. Well known to all the adults, including officers of the law, it seems to be a surprise to each class of young people that we actually know where it is – and that there are regular patrols of the area. Since the geography of Nolan County has not changed appreciably in the last thirty years, most of the ideal party and camping spots have been found by someone. As a result, there are few, if any, successful hiding places left.
Parties of this sort have gone on for as long as any of us can remember. The advent of dangerous drugs, huffing, and a more violent culture have raised the stakes. More than in the past, parties of this sort are ending up with charges of assault filed against one of the participants, or some one completing their evening in the Emergency Room as a result of alcohol or drug poisoning. Experiments with combinations of drugs, drugs with beer, or huffing are often lethal on the first try, especially when that try is out away from emergency aid, and with a group of people who are also experimenting.
The drive home from the party has become more hazardous, also. The true danger of driving while intoxicated, as many area families are aware, is not that the driver will face criminal charges, it is that the driver, a passenger, or a friend or stranger in another vehicle will be killed or injured as a result of impaired driving. The burden of killing or incapacitating another person is far worse than anything that the legal system can do. If, however, all escape unscathed, the penalties of the law will attach, possibly keeping the young driver from fulfilling the dreams of a lifetime.
The penalties of the season are not all aimed at the young people, however. Each year, the spring brings an increase in cases involving adults making alcoholic beverages available to persons who are underage. The misconceptions surrounding this law are many, despite repeated efforts by law enforcement and even beer companies to educate the public.
The law is actually quite simple. No person may make an alcoholic beverage available to a person under twenty-one years of age, unless the minor is the legal child or ward of that particular adult. When parents agree that it is better for the youth to have their party at the home of one parent, who will collect the car keys as they come in and not release them until all are sober, but they also agree that the young people will be furnished alcoholic beverages, they are agreeing to break the law. The “guardianship” referred to in the statute is a legal one, that involves the assistance of attorneys and courts. It is not the informal agreement between parents that one will look after the child of the other. In order for the described party to be legal, a parent of each child would have to remain, being the person to supply alcohol to his or her child. Not a pleasant prospect for the partiers or chaperones!
One of the more common “making available” scenarios involves the parent being asleep while the party rages out in the yard or in other rooms of the residence. Apparently without the knowledge of the parent, the young people got into the refrigerator or liquor cabinet and made themselves at home. When the police are called, normally by a neighbor who has had enough of the noise, the home owner indicates that he or she had absolutely no idea what was going on – they slept through the entire thing. Awake or asleep, the adult of the home is responsible for what is happening under his or her roof. If a child is injured, whether by a fall, the consumption of drugs or alcohol, the adult who was present (whether or not wholly conscious) will have some responsibility.
The first evenings of spring carry a promise and nostalgia that can make most of us think back to the days when we, also, were eager to be adults and to challenge the limits that were set for us. Luckily, we lived in a different, and, in many ways, safer world. A fling with the dangers of partying can have sobering effects on all of us.
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org