State money to aid local efforts to combat underage drinking

York County officials want to put a stop to underage drinking, and they say they're a step closer thanks to state money that will help the effort.

The 16th judicial circuit, which consists of York and Union counties, recently received $98,000 from the state for education and prevention programs.

"It will help us enhance our current efforts in reducing underage drinking," said Janet Martini, executive director of Keystone Substance Abuse Services. "It will help us continue to educate our community on the dangers of underage drinking."

Keystone and local law enforcement will share the money. Keystone will educate youth, merchants, law enforcement and the community on new drinking laws, community awareness and dangers associated with underage drinking, said Jane Alleva, Keystone community relations director.

Law enforcement efforts also will get an extra boost, she said. The money will help provide training and equipment, such as breathalyzers, for police. The money also will be used to pay off-duty police, who will man compliance checks and sobriety checkpoints, she said.

"Underage drinking is such a big problem," Alleva said. "This fund can really help us make an impact and save lives."

Within the past 45 days, authorities conducted compliance checks at 69 bars and convenience or grocery stores. Of that, 10 sales of beer and/or wine were made to underage drinkers, according to a report from Lt. Jason Dalton of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit. The clerks at the stores where the illegal sales happened were cited and fined.

On Aug. 17, police crashed a party that resulted in seven youths being arrested or cited on underage drinking charges. Early the next morning, an 18-year-old had to turn her license into the Department of Motor Vehicles after she was cited on a charge of DUI after crashing into a gas pump at a local convenience store, according to reports from the Rock Hill Police Department.

Early Friday, police investigated underage drinking at a popular Rock Hill party spot and arrested a 20-year-old man on a charge of possession/purchasing beer by someone younger than 21, another report states.

But the effort isn't about punishing underage drinkers and those who sell them alcohol, Alleva said.

"It's about keeping our community healthy and safe," she said.

However, Martini said, underage alcohol consumption often leads to poor judgment and risky behaviors, which can lead to violence, sexual assaults, rapes, pregnancy and alcohol poisoning.

"We don't want them laying on a cold slab in the morgue with no life in front of them," Martini said. "That isn't the rite of passage for our York County students. We want to see them graduate and grow into healthy adults."