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Teen drinking leads to calls for anti-party law

By MARY SCHLEY

Published: January 11, 2013

AN OUT-OF-CONTROL party that landed one teen in the hospital for alcohol poisoning and raised concerns another might have been sexually assaulted while passed out has led to calls for a city law making it a crime to host a party where underage drinking occurs. The city council could consider a draft ordinance within the next month or two, Mayor Jason Burnett said at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Heath Rocha, a Carmel Unified School District director who oversees the district’s drug and alcohol prevention efforts, told the council Jan. 8 that Carmel High School students “use and abuse drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate,” exceeding that of their counterparts in Pacific Grove, Monterey County and statewide.

To help combat that abuse by getting parents and the community more involved in preventing their children from drinking and doing drugs, Rocha said, a group of CHS parents formed Carmel CARES, which stands for Committed to Achieving Results and Ensuring Success. A crucial aspect is persuading adults not to allow underage drinking in their homes.

“A couple of months ago, there was a party that took place in the Carmel-by-the-Sea city limits, with about 30 Carmel High School students,” Rocha said during the public comment period at the meeting. Carmel P.D. was called, and a few teenagers were cited.

“And unfortunately, one student was taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning,” he said. “Another student went to the hospital because she may have been sexually assaulted while she was unconscious at the party.”

(Carmel P.D. detective Rachelle Lightfoot told The Pine Cone that police cited three teenagers for curfew violation, and an intoxicated adult received a strong warning. She also reported there is no significant evidence the girl was sexually assaulted at the Oct. 28, 2012, party — which took place in a San Antonio Avenue home belonging to the grandparents of a CHS student and grew out of control as word spread via social networking — but DNA results have yet to come back from the state Department of Justice lab to help confirm it one way or another.)

The incident prompted Rocha to email Burnett, Carmel P.D. Sgt. Paul Tomasi (who has since been promoted to commander, as of Jan. 1), and Chief Mike Calhoun, asking them to draft and implement a social-host ordinance.

The new law “would hold individuals — social hosts — criminally accountable for allowing, knowingly or unknowingly, an event to take place where alcohol is consumed by minors,” Rocha said. “It also addresses the commonly held belief that underage binge drinking is inevitable or simply a right of passage,” and is therefore acceptable, even though it’s illegal.

Parents are also known to allow their teenagers and friends to drink alcohol in their homes with the belief that it’s better to know where they are and that they are not driving.

Rocha provided a copy of a similar law in Marin County that carries fines of $750 for the first offense, $1,500 for the second and $2,500 for the third, and also holds hosts liable for public-safety services used during second and subsequent offenses.

“I urge you to adopt an ordinance with the stiffest of penalties and serve as a model for other municipalities,” he told the council.

Pacific Grove has a social-host ordinance in its municipal code and used the law to cite then-19-year-old Christopher Veloz, who held the party where teen Aaron Corn was drinking before he drove and crashed his SUV into a tree near Skyline Forest, partially paralyzing friend Chelsie Hill, who was a passenger in the car, in February 2010.

After the meeting, Calhoun said Tomasi, who also runs the department’s juvenile diversion program to help young offenders correct their ways before they end up in the criminal justice system, is working with city attorney Don Freeman to draft the ordinance. According to Calhoun, the county, as well as the cities of Monterey and Marina, have similar laws on the books.