By
JONATHAN W. BLODGETT
ESSEX DISTRICT ATTORNEY


We are in the midst of prom season and high school graduations are at hand, events that bring celebrations of friendship and achievement.

But too often in this season of celebration and joyful reflection, we have witnessed tragedies that no child or family should ever have to endure. In too many instances, the tragedies were fueled with alcohol supplied by adults.

Six months ago in Ipswich, a high school senior named Lisa Sparaco was killed on a narrow winding road, when the car in which she was a passenger crashed into a telephone pole at a high rate of speed. The teenage driver of the car had allegedly consumed alcohol purchased by an adult.

This adult is now in jail after admitting to buying the beer, but eventually he will serve his sentence and be released. Lisa's life is forever lost.

The mix of alcohol and underage drinkers is a dangerous, often deadly combination. Accidental deaths, physical and sexual assaults, and vandalism are commonly the result of that mix.

As stated in the pamphlet produced by my office, the Departments of Public Health and Education, the Executive Office of Public Safety, and a private law firm, "One bad decision about alcohol can change a life, or many lives, forever."

There is absolutely no ambiguity in the law. As an adult, if you provide alcohol to children under the age of 21, the consequences can be severe and far-reaching. Here are a few facts adults should know:

• If you provide alcohol to underage drinkers who are not your children or grandchildren, or allow them to drink in your home, you may be criminally prosecuted and face a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

• You may also be sued, and a jury may decide whether you are civilly liable and how much you will have to pay for injuries caused by your guests.

• You could be prosecuted criminally and sued civilly if you knowingly allow a person under 21 to drink at your home, and he becomes very ill or dies from alcohol poisoning or other injuries.

• You could be civilly liable if you give permission for your underage child to drink in someone else's home, and he injures or kills a third party.

• If a judgment is lodged against you as a "social host," your homeowner's insurance may cover you, but most likely will not be enough to pay the judgment. If you are also charged criminally, then it is possible your policy will not cover the civil judgment.

Adults should ask themselves: "Is it worth it?"

On a typical weekend in the United States, an average of one teenager an hour dies in a car crash (MADD, 2002), and nearly half of those fatalities are alcohol related.

One study shows that 40 percent of children who begin drinking at an early age will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives (Grant & Dawson, 1997.)

On the other hand, that same study determined that if drinking is delayed until age 21, a child's risk of serious alcohol problems is decreased by 70 percent.

We must always be vigilant about the issue of underage drinking. It is the responsibility not only of parents, but of all adults, to do everything we can to keep our children safe.