SALISBURY -- In a crackdown on teen drinking, authorities in Wicomico County are planning to file charges against as many as 100 juveniles who attended a party where a 15-year-old boy drank himself to death in August.
"We want to send a message to the juveniles in this community," said Davis R. Ruark, the county state's attorney. "In the future, juveniles will know that if they abuse alcohol, they are not just going to walk away."
The prosecutor said 80 to 100 juveniles will be charged with illegal possession of alcohol and, in some cases, misrepresentation of age -- civil rather than criminal offenses.
A Wicomico sheriff's deputy broke up the Aug. 9 party just outside Salisbury, where an estimated 200 high-school-aged youths had paid $3 for all the beer they could drink and 50 cents for each shot of liquor.
Just before the deputy arrived, 15-year-old Brian Ball, who was visiting from Trenton, Texas, was taken from the party to Peninsula General Hospital Medical Center. The youth had passed out at the party and never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead of alcohol poisoning and asphyxiation two days later.
Since then, Mr. Ruark said, the state police have been interviewing many of the people who were at the party. The six-month investigation, involving scores of teens and their parents, is continuing, and Mr. Ruark said he ultimately hopes to file charges against the adults who purchased the alcohol.
The charges against juveniles mostly will be handled by the Department of Juvenile Services, officials said.
The agency's assistant area director, Vicki Stoner, said those found to be "children in need of supervision," could lose their driver's licenses for 30 to 90 days. They might also be sentenced to mandatory community service, most likely at the county landfill, or be referred for substance abuse counseling.
While all of those being cited were too young to drink, not all are legally minors. Those 18 to 20 years old will face civil charges carrying a maximum fine of $500 for a first offense, officials said.
Although the citations are ready to be served, state police have yet to work out the logistics. There is no mechanism for dealing with 80 to 100 juveniles at one time, state police spokesman Chuck Jackson said.
Mr. Ruark said he hopes that officers can keep a low profile. "Nobody's out to roust a load of people," he explained.
"They'll probably give a call to the parents and the juveniles and ask them to come in."
The influx of alcohol citations will more then double the caseload at the local Department of Juvenile Services.
Currently, two workers are handling the cases of an estimated 60 youths on probation for various offenses in Wicomico. Ms. Stoner says she may have to call on caseworkers from the other Lower Shore counties to assist with the new work.