Seniors plan for a week at the beach 150,000 'June bugs' are due in Ocean City for traditional rite

'I want to kick back, relax'

Liberty graduates get words of reality from resort police officer

June 05, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Within hours of her graduation Sunday, Lindsey Drager plans to be on the road to Ocean City with three friends.

The Liberty High School students are among the 150,000 "June bugs" descending "down the ocean" for a Senior Week tradition of unsupervised cutting loose that many teens consider their due.

"The main idea of Senior Week is to break free from the monotony of the school year," said Matthew Horrell, 18.

"I have been waiting to graduate forever," said Dan Feehan, 18. "Now, I want to kick back, relax and forget about everything."

At the Eldersburg school yesterday, 263 seniors took time out from graduation rehearsal for a preview of beach week from one of Ocean City's finest.

Barry L. Neeb, community services coordinator for the Ocean City Police Department, took the podium to a mixture of cheers and groans. He immediately elicited a laugh.

"I watched your procession practice, and you guys have a lot of work to do," he said.

David Oliver, president of the Liberty Parent Teacher Student Association, invited Neeb to Eldersburg. Oliver's stepson will be among the seniors celebrating at the shore next week.

"I want him to come back safe and without a police record," Oliver said.

Parents have reason for alarm. Neeb cited statistics from last year when three students died in alcohol-related incidents -- two in falls from high-rise balconies and a third from a gunshot wound. About 600 other teens were arrested, most for underage drinking.

This year, local police, businesses and the lodging industry have formed an organization -- Reduce the Availability of Alcohol to Minors. Its members have spoken to many student groups in Maryland and neighboring states to let them know what the level of tolerance will be in the resort.

"We want you to have a good time," Neeb said. "It is your week, and you have worked hard for it. We are not taking your good time away from you, but we will hold you responsible for the choices you make."

More than half of the audience yesterday will be in Neeb's town next week, but he said he hopes he does not meet any of the students. He and 90 other officers are working undercover around the clock.

"I know you are coming down to see us, but how many of you will wind up meeting us?" Neeb said, pointing to a badge on his chest.

Last week, Ocean City police arrested 106 people, most of them 18-year-olds -- "almost all well beyond the legal limit for intoxication," said Neeb.

The arrests undoubtedly will continue as police, dressed like teen-agers, target underage drinkers and those who buy alcohol for them. Officers will work most often at night, but start earlier on rainy days.

"We will hang out at carryout liquor stores -- we get asked to buy beer all the time," he said. "We will be moving from place to place to give kids the impression the police are everywhere."

Underage drinkers receive a civil citation, which carries a $500 fine. The arresting officer often marches the teen to a pay phone for a call home.

In 1995, officers issued 400 citations to youthful offenders. They already have written 400 this year. A citation means a Worcester County court appearance, and bench warrants are issued for no-shows.

"You can hide a parking ticket from your parents, but you would be hard pressed to explain why you have to make a second trip to Ocean City," Neeb said.

Officers also are working closely with hotels and rental agencies.

"We are asking owners to make their rules clear and to enforce them," Neeb said. "Some require chaperones, who sign in every day."

Jane Evans, treasurer of the Liberty PTSA, said if Neeb's talk swayed even one student, it was worth the effort.

"This could prepare kids a little better than stories about what other seniors have done in the past," Evans said. "There are bigger consequences to messing up. They will be making decisions that could have lifelong consequences."

But Horrell said he did not think the program would deter fellow Liberty seniors who are determined to drink.

"Some kids take this as a week to drink," he said. "The officer did give us one added perspective: The decisions are ours to make."

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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