Nearly a year after a tragic drunk driving accident claimed the life of a Clarke County High School rising senior resulting in a conviction on manslaughter and drunk driving charges for the teen driving the vehicle and later led to the subsequent conviction of a Berryville woman for supplying alcohol to minors, a group of local teens and at least one adult appear determined to demonstrate their disregard for teen drinking laws.
A coalition of Clarke County parents believe that few lessons have been learned by a group of CCHS teens planning a beach-week fiesta in North Carolina soon after graduation. According to a letter provided to the Clarke Daily News from an ad-hoc coalition calling itself, “Concerned Parents of Clarke County,” an out-of-state beach house is being rented by local teens specifically so that alcohol can be consumed far from the watchful eyes of adults in Clarke County.
“Partying among Clarke County’s youth is still prevalent and has not disappeared; it has just gone now underground. In one specific case partying has not only gone underground, it has skipped south two states to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” said a parent who claimed firsthand knowledge of the planned beach week party. “I confirmed today, the trip is still on, the realtor said the house location had changed, but they [the students] were being accommodated. The agent I spoke with stated there is still no ‘responsible parent’ that has signed for damages. I asked if the booking agency would allow occupancy without a parent’s signature, they responded with a â€˜No’.”
The letter alleges that, “After graduation, Clarke County High School students are planning an alcohol bonanza at a â€˜Party House’ located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In what is commonly referred to by Clarke County students as â€˜beach week,’ June 19-25, this year’s mega-party was organized by one of the children of a Berryville citizen recently incarcerated after pleading guilty to charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Some folks have short memories when it comes to the consequences of irresponsibility it seems.”
The concerned parent coalition is also seeking to put local school and law enforcement officials on notice about the event stating that the letter serves, “as formal public notice to Clarke County Public School Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy and Clarke County Sheriff Anthony Roper. Dr. Murphy, Sheriff Roper, please reach out to your professional contacts in Myrtle Beach and send the message that underage kids can leave Clarke County but they can’t ignore the law. Your professional responsibility demands that you take action on this matter and you may just save a life in the process.”
In the year since the accident that claimed the life of 17-year-old Aaron Shirley, Clarke County has conducted an ongoing and public dialogue over how to deal locally with what has become a nationwide epidemic of destructive decisions by teenagers. Although Clarke County’s teen drinking discussion has ranged across a wide array of topics and solutions, and at times has been painful and uncomfortable, the result has been signs of change in the community’s tolerance for underage drinking. In response to the outpouring of public sentiment, the past year has seen Clarke County education and law enforcement officials step up efforts to combat teen drinking.
Earlier in the year, administrators at Clarke County High School convened a student assembly where representatives from law enforcement, the courts and substance abuse counselors addressed students about the long-term consequences that can accompany underage decisions associated with alcohol, drugs and sex. Additionally, departing Clarke County High School principal Dr. John Werner recently joined the board of directors for CLEAN, a Winchester-based not-for-profit dedicated to helping teens avoid alcohol, drugs and sex. A Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter has been established at the high school.
From a policy perspective, the Clarke County School Board is currently revising its drug testing procedures, although school board officials are quick to acknowledge that after-school and weekend alcohol use are difficult to detect using conventional testing approaches.
Most recently, an after-prom party aimed at providing students with an alcohol-free alternative to unsupervised activities was further testament to school officials and the community working together to address substance abuse by local teens
“I was very pleased with the support for the after prom celebration at the high school,” said one school official. “About 160 kids to start and 100 or so still there are 4:00 a.m. A great idea, a lot of work, and a great result.”
Law enforcement activities aimed at reducing the availability of alcohol to minors have also increased. Sting operations conducted by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Department and Berryville Police netted several arrests and convictions at local establishments for selling alcohol to minors earlier in the year.
“Concerning who kids should call if they find themselves somewhere where they feel they are in danger, they can call the police,” said one local law enforcement official. “I understand that there can be a real reluctance to do this because of the stigma, but the alternative of doing nothing is not a good one. It is unfortunate that a child would be in a situation where they do not feel that they can call their parents, but there is legal standing for police action whenever a child â€˜is in need of services.’ Any drinking of alcohol by underage folks is illegal, and the person who provides the alcohol to the minor also violates the law. Our office has a policy of arresting for violations of the law, and these cases of reported crimes are no different.”
But as the Clarke County community continues to become more vigilant toward underage drinking, it perhaps is not surprising that some teens, armed with a driver’s license and enabled by an adult willing to sign a beach-house lease, believe that the solution may be to simply move their parties farther from Clarke County. If so, the Concerned Parents of Clarke County warn that moving a party 400-miles away from home doesn’t mitigate the danger and risk for the young people involved.
“If you have a child traveling to this party house in to Myrtle Beach, be warned. The legal drinking age is 21, but even so, the rental management company for this property does not require a responsible adult to be there to oversee the safety of your child. Prior year attendees have attested to the plentiful supply of alcoholic beverages of all kinds,” the letter says. “If you are a responsible parent, stop your child from attending parties that alcohol and/or drugs are present. Call law enforcement if you suspect underage drinking and drug use. Law enforcement is obliged to check any calls of concerns (call anonymously if you prefer). Alert other parents of suspected illegal party locations, stress to your children that it’s OK to shun partying, peer pressure and adults that condone underage drinking. Most importantly, make the tragedy of last June the hitchpin of all your efforts in creating a safer community for our children. Together we can make a difference.”