By DAVID GREEN
Life is all about choices, says Joan Clark, an enforcement agent with the Ohio Investigative Unit of the state’s Department of Public Safety, and you have to be smart about your decisions.
Agent Clark (not her real name) presented “The Sober Truth” program to two classes of Fayette students last week. Her goal is to make students aware of the consequences of underage drinking.
Why speak to seventh grade students?
“I can guarantee you’re going to hear about parties,” she said. “You’re going to be making big decisions about alcohol.”
Clark asked students if the school had a code of conduct for student athletes to sign. Hearing that it does, she asked a student what the code says.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I didn’t read it.”
Students are walking billboards for their school, she said.
“If you do something bad outside of school, it makes not only you look bad but also the school.”
There are several ways that officers in the Ohio Investigative Unit find out about what’s going on in Fayette, Clark said. Someone who gets kicked out of a party might become angry and report the event. Teachers hear a lot, she said, and will pass information along.
Sometimes even parents will contact police, knowing their child will get arrested, because they would rather do this than later learn of of the child’s death.
Facebook also presents plenty of information. Kids post photos of people drinking.
“What do I call that?” she asked. “Evidence.”
Those photos could not only affect you criminally, Clark said, but they could become an impediment to entrance into college or in finding a job.
Clark ran through a typical scenario that her agency encounters.
The parents aren’t home so a child decides to have a party. Someone brings alcohol or drugs and the state police arrive with a search warrant.
“Local law enforcement agencies use discretion,” she said, “but we do not. Everyone at the party will go to jail for something.”
“Then don’t hang out at underage parties,” she said.
Possession of tobacco: $250 fine and up to 30 days at a juvenile campus.
Underage possession: $1,000 fine and up to six months at a campus.
“When you start using alcohol and drugs,” Clark said, “you find out who your friends are.”
If someone has a couple bottles of beer under the seat of a car, everyone could be arrested. If a police officer can smell alcohol on your breath, you’re considered under the influence.
“Ignorance of the law is not going to keep you from getting arrested,” Clark said.
She knows of a 17-year-old who was charged with the death of his best friend after furnishing alcohol. She knows of a woman who was asleep and unaware that her child and other youths were downstairs drinking. One of the guests died in a traffic accident and his parents sued the woman, who has since lost her house from her indebtedness.
“We’ve seen a lot of things we never thought we’d see,” Clark said, such as the alcohol poisoning of a BGSU student who was found foaming at the mouth—and dead.
“One bad decision can affect you forever,” she said. “You may hear this from teachers and parents; I can only tell you what I’ve experienced, so just be smart.”
Facts from the Ohio Investigative Unit:
• One-third of all citations issued to liquor permit holders involve sales to minors.
• A person under the age of 21 who presents a fake or altered ID or drivers license when purchasing alcohol may face a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail.
• If you are under the age of 21 and you purchase or share in the cost of alcohol, you may be arrested, taken to jail and ordered to pay a fine.
• 85 percent of high school students have had at least one drink of alcohol during their lives.
• 30 percent of high school students had their first drink, other than a few sips, before the age of 13.
• It is illegal for those under the age of 21 to be served alcohol by anyone other than their parent, legal guardian or a spouse of legal age.