PROVO — High school graduations are in full swing this week and Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy Tuesday says he has a seat reserved for any adult who provides alcohol to a teenager.
Deputies say that most of the heartbreaking cases they respond to start with teenagers drinking alcohol.
"One of the things that sometimes happens is that adults will provide alcohol to minors, and they will do it with a mindset that it is better to control how they get it, because if they don't control how they get it, then they will find it anyway and it might be irresponsible,” Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said.
Cannon said he has found that teenage drinking usually always leads to drunk driving.
"Minors who consume alcohol, they don't want to get caught in the first place and so they are certainly not going to call a parent in most cases and say, ‘I have been drinking, can you come and get me?’ They are just going to drive home so it creates risks beyond just that they are drinking illegally,” Cannon said.
Cannon and other Utah County sheriff's deputies are putting decals that say “Seat reserved for adults who give alcohol to minors,” on their back windows as a warning to adults.
“We have a reserved seat there. This seat is reserved for adults who provide alcohol to minors and that reserved seat will transport you to the jail,” Tracy said.
The new campaign between the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, SMART (Substance Misuse and Abuse Reduction Team) Utah County Coalition andParentsEmpowered.org is designed to raise awareness of the dangers of underage drinking, what parents can do to keep their kids alcohol-free, and what consequences apply to adults who provide alcohol to underage kids.
Research shows that, on average, teens in Utah who consume alcohol are just 13 years old when they take their first drink.
Health advocates say that is why it's critical for parents to have a conversation with their children about the dangers of alcohol at an early age.
"If you start drinking at the age of 13, you have a 50 percent chance of becoming an alcoholic later in life,” said Richard Nance with the Utah County Department of Drug and Alcohol Prevention. “If you wait until age 23, 24, 25 you have almost a zero percent chance.”
Deputies say when it comes to adults giving teens alcohol, don't ask for any leniency.
"It is very disappointing to see an adult who thinks it is OK to provide alcohol to a minor, and if it takes them being arrested and taken to jail that is what we will do,” Cannon said.
Providing alcohol to a minor is a class A misdemeanor. If convicted, a person can face a year in jail.
Deputies say this isn't a crackdown specific to graduation week. They say with or without one of the signs, they will always keep a seat reserved for this crime.
“Underage drinking is against the law, and for several good reasons,” Tracy said. "As officers, we often see the consequences alcohol can have on the lives of young people. We urge parents to please help us keep our youth free from the negative impact of underage drinking as a way to help them have successful and healthy futures.”
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