HANCOCK COUNTY — A fall party in the southern part of the county Saturday led to 13 teenagers being arrested and charged with underage drinking. Twelve of the teenagers were 17 years old or younger while the other was 18. It was the first large illegal drinking party officials who work with the Hancock County Underage Drinking Task Force had to deal with in the past 12 months, they said.
The Hancock County Underage Drinking Task Force is a partnership of law enforcement agencies, schools, probation, judges, the prosecutor’s office, and Neighborhood Against Substance Abuse (NASA), who work to educate underage youth on the dangers of consuming alcohol.
Tim Retherford, the director of the NASA program who also oversees the county’s youth council for combating substance abuse, said they’re actually seeing far fewer teenagers making bad decisions when it comes to alcohol abuse.
“We’ll go for a while not having any need for the Task Force and I think kids think it’s gone away, but we have not,” Retherford said. “We tend to have these kinds of larger arrests in the fall after football games when people are having bon-fires and outdoor parties.”
Retherford noted there was a time in the county when large underage drinking parties happened regularly, but not so much anymore.
“We have made a huge dent, which is a positive, and the task force is becoming more of a preventive-type tool and less than an enforcement agency and that’s what we want,” Retherford said. “We don’t want to arrest kids. We want kids to make good decisions and not to drink alcohol.”
The 12 teenagers who are under 18 years of age will have their cases handled by the county’s juvenile probation department. That will include meeting with a probation officer, some type of community service and some type of educational class.
“That could all take up to a year to finish,” Retherford said. “While on probation, the kids are subject to drug testing and all of that.”
Josh Sipes is the head of the county’s probation department and noted standard operating procedures for dealing with minors who consume alcohol can have different outcomes.
“If an agreement is reached on the child’s responsibility in the offense, the matter can be handled without appearing in court through either a diversion process or an informal adjustment,” Sipes said. “If the child denies the allegations, the probation officer submits the matter to the prosecutor’s officer for consideration of a formal filing.”
In most cases, Sipes noted, drug screens are used to monitor an offender’s substance use. In situations where officials believe the youth is at risk for their substance use to cause interruption in their lives, they also refer for a substance abuse evaluation and ask the family/child to follow those recommendations.
The lone 18-year-old will have their case handled by the prosecutor’s office.
“If it’s a first offense. They might get a diversion, but in order to qualify for the diversion, the prosecutor, Brent Eaton, will require them to do community service and an education class,” Retherford said.
Sipes noted as for a child’s record, there is already statute with regard to the automatic expungement of juvenile records.
“Our office follows the rules set forth by the state in that regard,” he said.
According to Capt. Robert Harris of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department (HCSD), the party took place Saturday night, Oct. 28. Two law enforcement members, both working with the Hancock County Underage Drinking Task force, were made aware of a party with possible underage drinking located in the 5900 block of W. Boulder Creek Drive, New Palestine, around 10:30 p.m.
In addition to officials from the (HCSD) and the Fortville Police Department, officers with the New Palestine Police Department were also present, Harris said.
According to a report from the HCSD, there is only one entrance and exit to the Boulder Creek housing addition where the residence was located. When law enforcement arrived, they saw that W. Boulder Creek Drive was lined with vehicles on both sides of the roadway.
Hancock County Dispatch had received duplicate calls from individuals who live in the housing addition, stating they were unable to enter the housing addition due to the number of vehicles parked along the roadway.
Law enforcement stopped vehicles from exiting the housing addition as they observed several juveniles running from the address where the party was taking place to vehicles parked on the street. Several deputies and officers administered a portable breath test (PBI) to individuals leaving the residence. Juveniles who tested positive for alcohol were charged and released to parents, Harris said.
The juveniles who were given a PBI and had a result of 0.000 were all allowed to leave the scene. All arrested juveniles and parents were given the number for Juvenile Probation and advised to call the office Monday morning.
A breakdown of the students charged shows ages ranged from as young as 14 to as old as 18 with six students having New Palestine addresses, six students with Greenfield addresses and one with a Fountaintown address.
The PBI results for the 13 teens ranged from 0.011 to 0.140%. Results from 0.10 – 0.12% indicate obvious physical impairment and loss of judgment, where speech may be slurred. Results from 0.13 – 0.15% indicate that blood alcohol level is quite high.
While Retherford and other county officials note kids are going to be kids and may make bad decisions, officials want them to think before they act and make decisions that will not mess up their futures.
“This whole incident we hope will serve as a reminder to kids, the Task Force is still there and kids will be held accountable if they drink alcohol,” Retherford said.
This is year 11 for the Underage Drinking Task Force, which Retherford noted made a lot of arrests during the first few years.
“We know we can’t stop all kids from drinking, but we feel like the culture has changed somewhat here with fewer large teenage drinking parties,” Retherford said. “Our whole goal has been to eliminate an opportunity for a large portion of our county kids to drink, and unfortunately there will be a group of kids who will push the limits, but we feel like it’s a small percentage.”
Harris noted while 13 teens were arrested for testing positive for alcohol, there were at least 30 to 35 other teenagers who were present at the party who were not drinking alcohol. Officials noted any adults who provided alcohol could be facing contributing alcohol to a minor charges if the prosecutor’s office determines charges need to be filed.