Karen Delliber has heard the stories. She's heard about teenagers dying in crashes after taking alcohol and drugs. She has a son in high school and she fears for his safety.
"If something happened to my child, my life would be over," said Delliber, who lives in Kent and whose son goes to
Housatonic Valley Regional High School
in Falls Village.
of Sherman still feels the pain of a 1996 accident that took the life of his daughter. She was the passenger in a car; the driver was drunk.
Hudson and Delliber were just two of about two dozen people who attended a meeting last week to discuss ways for towns to crack down on teen drinking. Hudson said the meeting, sponsored by the
Housatonic Valley Council
on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, was a "golden opportunity" to discuss ordinances that would allow police to break up teen drinking parties.
With the news of the death of 17-year-old
of New Milford still fresh, police officers, first selectmen and substance abuse experts also discussed underage drinking at the meeting in Bethel.
South was driving on Route 7 in New Milford when his pickup veered off the road and struck two trees. Some teens said he was at a house party in Sherman where teens were drinking, but police are still investigating.
But well before South died - way back in August - the Housatonic Valley Council planned the "Community Conversation About Underage Drinking" meeting.
A number of people at the gathering had the same complaint - Connecticut laws on underage drinking are confusing. The state specifically bans the sale of alcohol to those under 21 and prohibits minors from drinking on public property.
But on private property? That's a gray area in state law, said
, project director for the
to Stop Underage Drinking.
It's a gray area that some see as facilitating parties on private property - often at the homes of teens - where there is rampant underage drinking.
To date, 39 towns in Connecticut have tried to close the loophole in the state law by passing their own ordinances. Though they differ in details, most measures allow police to break up drinking parties, issue fines of $90 or so for underage drinkers as well as the hosts of the parties and disperse the young people in such a way so that everyone gets home safely.
"We want to send the message that these parties will not be tolerated," said Najarian.
Many of the ordinances state that anyone under 21 cannot be in possession or consume alcohol anywhere in town except in the presence of a parent or guardian who gives them permission.
Newtown adopted such an ordinance in September 2003.
Newtown Police Detective Sgt. Bob Tvardzik said police have used it twice in instances where young people hosted house parties when their parents were away. The parents returned to find their homes damaged or items stolen.
In Redding, people wanting an anti-drinking ordinance talked with teenagers who supported it. The teens then introduced it to town officials. "How could they say no?" said
, executive director of the Housatonic Council. Redding passed an ordinance in April.
Communities can apply for a $20,000 state grant to develop a local plan using evidence-based strategies that will impact youth, schools, retailers and others to prevent underage drinking.
New Milford and Newtown have already received grants. Newtown used some its money in a sort of a sting operation in which minors tried to buy alcohol at businesses.
The Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking is collecting data from each of the 39 towns in an attempt to judge the impact of the ordinance. Officials hope to get the data together in the next week or two. They will then use it to lobby the state legislature to pass a law that would make the ban on underage drinking on private property statewide.
Najarian said about 100 lawmakers supported such a measure last year, but the bill never came up for a vote.
In the meantime towns like New Fairfield and New Milford are looking into signing an ordinance. Others, Najarian said "are waiting or holding their breath until some tragedy happens."
Others at the meeting talked about concerns with house parties, which are sometimes hosted by parents who think it's better to have their children drinking in a supervised situation.
"My concern is for kids who are on different medications," said
Brookfield Prevention Council
. Gaynor worries that other parents could serve teens who are taking legal prescription medication. Mixing drugs and alcohol can be deadly.
More and more parents are involved in giving people under 21 alcohol, said Gaynor. She has seen some close calls. She feels good about the ordinance Brookfield passed in August.
of New Fairfield's Prevention Council said since the September death of 18-year-old
William "Willie" Barnaby
from drinking and drug use, kids have looked out more for each other. She heard about one group of teens who took a friend in distress to the hospital.
Still, Shea said, more teens are drinking and driving than two years ago and kids are still binge drinking. "There is still a lot of partying going on," said Shea. "It needs to be addressed."
For more information about the Housatonic Valley Council on Alcohol and Substance Abuse initiatives, log onto its Web site at
Contact Heather Barr
or at (203) 731-3331.