Sheriff's investigator works overtime to spot teens in possession

The two teenagers in the back seat of the car were trying to hide something on the floor near their feet. During the recent traffic stop, law officers found Malibu Rum, Apple Vodka and 40-ounce bottles of beer.

The driver could not produce a license or a vehicle registration. The car didn't belong to any of the four occupants. The teens swore the alcohol didn't belong to them, either.

It was a frustrating encounter for Jeremy Ashton, a Moffat County Sheriff's investigator who participated in the stop.

It raised questions about where the teens were headed and how they obtained the alcohol.

Ashton doesn't normally work patrol. But he and other officers from the Craig Police Department and the Moffat County Sheriff's Office have been signing up for overtime on the weekends to hit the streets in search of underage drinking. Grand Futures Prevention Coalition received a grant that pays for the officers' time.

Ashton and a colleague will work the underage drinking beat again this weekend.

The officers are looking for minors who gather at parking lots, drive in processions or park in bunches on residential streets.

Loud music tips them off. Noise complaints are one of the most common precursors to arrests at an underage drinking party, Ashton said.

A large number of contacts arise from traffic stops, Ashton said.

Certain circumstances may prompt Ashton to be more lenient with minors in possession of alcohol. But when vehicles are involved, his patience runs out.

"The main thing I have no tolerance for is kids driving around with alcohol in the vehicle," Ashton said. "That's absolutely disrespectful toward other people on the road."

In January, Ashton signed up for eight weekends on the underage drinking patrol. Teenagers are taking note, Ashton said.

"The word is getting out that officers are writing tickets for underage drinking."

In the last two weekends, nine minors have been cited for possession of alcohol, said Misty Schulze, who is the juvenile diversion officer at the District Attorney's office.

In February, 13 teenagers were put on diversion due to alcohol citations.

In one case, the youths had just left a vehicle, so officers couldn't prove who was driving, but "someone should have gotten a DUI," Schulze said.

Teens who fall out of the diversion program, or repeat offenders who won't qualify for it face 90 days of Schulze's supervision, which includes random chemical tests. Those young offenders also will have to work 30 hours of community service an attend an eight-hour class that teaches responsibility and life skills.

Some face suspension of their driving privileges. Schulze said that's a key incentive for teenagers not to drink. Even the 13- and 14-year-olds who get cited can have the license suspension waiting for them when they turn 16.

"We're dealing with this well before driving age," Schulze said.

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