tampabay.com

Adults told: no booze for kids

That could mean jail time for parents who allow teens to drink alcohol. "Parents need to be the adults," said Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia. "These laws are in place for a reason."

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published May 15, 2007


TAMPA -- In the constant battle against underage drinking, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials have a new target: grownups.

With graduations and end-of-school parties approaching, sheriff's officials said Monday they will crack down on underage drinking by focusing on party hosts.

That could mean jail time for parents who allow teens to drink alcohol. "Parents need to be the adults," said Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia. "These laws are in place for a reason."

"Kids are celebrating, and they are having a good time," Elia said. "That's the time we need to be most careful."

The end of the school year is always a busy time for student parties, and their dangerous mix of alcohol and inexperienced drinkers. "If you're a parent and you're having anyone under age 21 in your house, keep alcohol locked and away from anyone who's underage," said sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway.

Deputies will hand out fliers at high-school graduations, beginning with the first ceremony Friday. They will carry warnings to parents of the potential criminal charges of giving alcohol to teens.

Holding an open-house party, a second-degree misdemeanor, is the most common criminal charge. In the past three years, the Sheriff's Office has arrested 18 people on that charge, Callaway said.

It is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine, according to Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi.

About 10,700 students are expected to graduate this spring from Hillsborough schools.

In Pinellas County, where about 6,500 high school seniors will graduate, spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said the Sheriff's Office will focus on reducing underage drinking through driving under the influence enforcement and spot checks on businesses to ensure that clerks aren't selling teens alcohol.

Pinellas school officials say principals are getting the word out. "School by school, they have been sending the message: 'Make good choices, be safe,'" said Andrea Zahn, a Pinellas schools spokeswoman.

Times staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.