By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Family and friends continue to mourn the loss of a Milbrook High School student killed in a Jan. 7 drunk driving wreck, an ordeal which has led to charges against four teens and one adult, who helped supply the alcohol.
“Underage drinking breeds bad decisions; decisions to drive after drinking and to ride with intoxicated drivers,” said Jeff Lasater, Special Agent in Charge of the Alcohol Law Enforcement Raleigh District Office. “This tragedy is an unfortunate reminder of the seriousness of both underage drinking and providing alcoholic beverages to minors.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, expressed his sympathy for the family of 17-year-old Elizabeth Molloy, who was killed when the 1999 Jeep she was riding in, driven by 16-year-old Garrett Prince, left Rainwater Road at a high rate of speed and struck a tree.
Dr. Creech said the tragic wreck illustrates the importance of keeping strong alcohol laws and adequately staffed enforcement agencies.
“It’s true that no law or rule or restriction that the state could implement could ever bring back this life or reverse this horrible tragedy,” he said. “But if we can learn anything from these devastating events, it’s that we must not bow to pressure to loosen alcohol controls or to do away with important agencies like ALE.”
Alcohol Law Enforcement agents investigating the wreck found evidence that Prince and other underage drinkers had gotten their alcohol that night from an adult who bought it from an ABC Store on Sandy Forks Road. According to an ALE press release, Anthony Du Juan Geter, 21, was charged with four counts of aid and abet after purchasing spirituous liquor for Prince, Molloy, Samantha McKinney, 17, and an unnamed juvenile. Agent Lasater said Thursday that Geter didn’t know the teens. Apparently, they approached him around 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 at an apartment complex near the ABC Store and asked him to buy them the liquor. Geter had just turned 21 in late December.
“I know this happens a lot. People do it without understanding or even thinking about the consequences that could occurr,” Lasater said. “In this case, the worst possible thing happened.”
As for the teen-agers, McKinney was charged with underage purchase of spirituous liquor after she helped buy two 1.75-liter containers of Bacardi Dragon Berry rum, ALE reported. A 15-year-old faces similar charges.
In addition, ALE charged Hannah Rae Smith, 18, with two counts of aid and abet after they allege she hosted the party which Prince and Molloy attended. Lasater said Smith had a prior charge of possession of alcohol. He said her father, whom she lives with, was not charged because the investigation showed he was not home at the time.
Raleigh Police Department reports show Prince was under the influence as he sped through a 30-mph zone at at least 75 mph. His charges include felony death by motor vehicle, DWI, and possession of marijuana.
“Sadly this kind of case happens all too often. While the ultimate responsibility lies with the person behind the wheel, we are glad to see ALE issue charges against those who appear to have helped set the scene by supplying booze and a place for teens to drink,” said the Rev. Creech. “Without ALE, finding out where the alcohol came from and making the appropriate charges to help stop people from providing kids with alcohol would be virtually impossible.”
Lasater said officers from the State Highway Patrol, local police and sheriff’s departments often call ALE when they see evidence of underage drinking so that agents can begin the legwork needed to trace the source of the alcohol.
“If it’s an accident, we may start with the containers found in the vehicle and then try to trace the steps back as to where the people had been,” he said. In the Molloy case, ALE agents started conducting interviews that Saturday afternoon and then went to the school to talk to other students who had been at the party.
Although the agency already spends the majority of its time on underage drinking prevention and enforcement, Lasater said a fatal accident like Molloy’s takes priority. He said two agents spent about 80 hours each on the probe.
“That’s why we’re so glad the ALE is still here,” Rev. Creech said. “While other agencies can certainly investigate, most local departments don’t have the manpower or the expertise.”
The agency was nearly axed by lawmakers as they struggled to cut the state budget last spring. But the CAL, the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) Commission and others spoke up on the ALE’s behalf, pointing to the importance of battling underage drinking, overseeing ever growing alcohol sales, performing background checks for potential permittees and the host of other duties demanded of ALE agents.
“This is one of dozens of issues that we lobbied on during the last session that illustrates the CAL’s role in keeping lawmakers informed on matters that affect the health and welfare of our citizens,” Dr. Creech said. “The enforcement of ABC laws, many of which deal with underage drinking, is too important to be left to chance or dumped on already overburdened local police agencies.”
A related issue that the CAL had championed more than four years ago involves the penalty for providing alcohol for minors. While it remains a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine and community service, House Bill 1277 (Driver’s License Revocation for ABC Violation), passed in 2007, means anyone convicted of supplying alcohol to someone underage will have his driver’s license suspended for up to a year.
Lasater said that aspect of the law should deter the crime, especially among teens, many of whom would be devastated to lose their newly acquired driving privileges.
“Sometimes people don’t see the importance of bills dealing with alcohol regulations or issues surrounding agencies like ALE, but these make up a network of protective layers that seek to minimize the great harm done to our society by alcohol abuse,” the Rev. Creech said. “We simply must keep fighting this good fight.”