THE MESSAGE: Sarah Blanch was out Friday handing out flyers hoping to curb underage drinking during St. Patrick's Day. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

THE MESSAGE: Sarah Blanch was out Friday handing out flyers hoping to curb underage drinking during St. Patrick’s Day. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

NOMA — Are you thinking about throwing a party to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? If so, make sure to keep an eye on your alcohol and keep it out of the hands of minors.

That was the message Santa Monican Marilyn Wexler was spreading Friday as she and other volunteer members of the Westside Impact Coalition canvassed the North of Montana Avenue neighborhood handing out green flyers featuring handcuffs in the shape of a four-leaf clover. The flyers warned adults to not provide alcohol to minors at house parties because they could be held liable if something were to happen.

“Just say no, really. That’s number one,” Wexler said as she made her way north on 11th Street. “Don’t keep [alcohol] in the house. If you do, lock it up. If you’re dealing with kids, sometimes the straight road is the way to go.”

The coalition is a group of local parents, educators, health professionals, business owners and others advocating for effective solutions to reduce problems related to alcohol in Santa Monica and Venice. Those problems can include fatal traffic accidents, illicit drug use, sexual assaults and alcohol poisoning.

The Healthy Kids Survey, conducted in 2011, shows that three-quarters of Santa Monica High School students considered alcohol either “very” or “fairly” easy to get, and 26 percent reported drinking more than five drinks in one sitting in the previous month.

House parties are consistently cited as the primary sources from which minors obtain alcohol, said Sarah Blanch, who works with the coalition, which is funded through a grant from the Los Angeles County Substance Abuse Prevention and Control Division of the Department of Public Health.

St. Patrick’s Day is supposed to be a celebration of the patron saint Patrick, an Englishman who was kidnapped by Irish raiders and later became a Christian missionary credited with driving out paganism on the island.

However, it has become more of an excuse to wear green and drink heavily in America, which explains why it is one of the deadliest holidays in terms of drunk driving deaths. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration reports that alcohol impaired crashes claimed a life every 53 minutes in 2011. On St. Patty’s Day alone more than a third of fatalities from motor vehicle crashes — 34 percent — were connected to drunk driving.

Santa Monica Police officers witness that first-hand every year as the number of reports of fighting and drunk driving spike, said SMPD Sgt. Jay Moroso, who warned people to drink responsibly. Police occasionally set up DUI checkpoints to discourage drunk driving and conduct stings to make sure bars, liquor stores and grocers don’t sell to minors.

The coalition is partnering with the SMPD, local schools, businesses and others to help spread the word about the dangers of underage drinking. It advises adults to make sure to keep booze secured during a party and ask for ID from guests if necessary.

If not, hosts can be fined. More cities are adopting social host laws which hold adults responsible for parties where alcohol is served. The adult who owns the home or rents it is responsible, no matter who provides the booze. The fines vary by community, but are up to $2,500.

The State Supreme Court is currently considering whether or not to change a state law that went into effect in 1978 which states that liability for any injuries or deaths caused by a drunk driver rests with the driver, not the source of the liquor.

The case pending before the Supreme Court stems from the death of 19-year-old Andrew Ennabe, a Cal State Fullerton student killed by an intoxicated 20-year-old driver, Thomas Garcia. The collision happened just after they left an alcohol-fueled party in Diamond Bar thrown by then-20-year-old Jessica Manosa at a vacant rental property her parents owned.

Ennabe’s parents sued Manosa and her parents, arguing that the state’s liability shield shouldn’t apply. Manosa wasn’t really a social host, they said, because she imposed a cover charge on uninvited guests, then used the money to defray the cost of the alcohol served.

Santa Monica doesn’t have a social host law, Blanch said, so police have to rely on state laws such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor. It is also illegal to charge guests for alcohol. Blanch said those laws are harder to enforce and the coalition hopes to encourage city officials to adopt a social host law.

Blanch said Friday’s effort wasn’t about telling parents how to raise their kids. If they feel comfortable introducing their children to alcohol in the form of a glass of wine during a special occasion, that is their choice. The canvassing was more about reminding adults of their role.

“Every time a teen gets alcohol they get it from an adult.”

For more information on the coalition, visit westsideimpactproject.org

 

kevinh@smdp.com

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