Underage drinking at party alleged

Man, 20, dies after leaving event at farm

June 11, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Many of those celebrating high school graduation last week at the farm of a prominent Worcester County businessman say that beer and grain alcohol flowed plentifully for 50 or more underage drinkers there.

But Hale Harrison -- who allowed his 17-year-old son, George Hale Harrison, to hold the party June 1 -- says the opposite: He saw no alcohol there and even stood by the farm's front gate monitoring partygoers for two hours to make sure.

This much is not in dispute: The party ended in the early hours of June 2 when Robert E. Krieger Jr., 20, originally from Baltimore and a mate on an Ocean City charter boat, drove through the farm's ornate wooden gate, sped north on Route 611 toward Ocean City, lost control of his truck, crashed into trees about four miles away and died.

A state medical examiner, Dr. Dennis Shute, says Krieger's blood alcohol level was 0.13 when he died, above the 0.10 level that state law defines as driving while intoxicated. Shute says no evidence of drugs was found in Krieger's body.

Worcester County Detective Michael McDermott says police are investigating.

According to eight teen-agers and young adults who were at the party in honor of this year's graduates of the private Worcester Country School, drinks -- including beer and a grain alcohol punch -- were served during the party by an underage bartender who collected $5 and stamped the hands of drinkers on the second floor of the farm's main house.

"There were kegs and buckets of jungle juice made with grain alcohol," said Chad Parker, 19, of Baltimore.

Two party-goers say they saw Harrison loading beer kegs into his Jeep Wagoneer after the crash. "[George Hale's] dad pulls up and everybody has big blue plastic bags cleaning up and loading kegs into the Jeep," 18-year-old Jon Chullin of West Ocean City said. "He told everybody to clear out."

The eight young people say the party was one of about a dozen such affairs in recent months at the 650-acre waterfront farm and other properties owned by Harrison, whose company, the Harrison Group, operates 11 hotels in Ocean City.

"There's one of these things just about every weekend somewhere" at a Harrison property, Kellie Meehan, 18, the daughter of Ocean City's Town Council President Rick Meehan, said of the alcohol at last week's party.

Harrison -- whose businesses include a Holiday Inn, a Quality Inn and the Harbor Watch restaurant -- says he saw no drinking at the party. He says he almost got run over trying to stop Krieger from leaving, followed him in his car and was the first to report the crash.

"My conscience is clear," Harrison said. "I did not buy them anything that night or any other night. I checked the house twice before the party started and there was nothing. If anything was there, the kids brought it with them."

Harrison acknowledges he and others cleaned up after the party but he will not comment on whether he removed beer kegs.

He says he has allowed several parties at his beachfront townhouse, but never without checking on them. Ocean City police say they have had no complaints of underage drinking at Harrison's properties.

"We had three or four parties for them over the last year and we've never had anything like this," Harrison said, adding: "On the `QT,' the authorities have said there's nothing to this, nothing will come of it."

But Joel Todd, Worcester County state's attorney, said: "This investigation is definitely continuing."

Friends of Krieger, a 1996 graduate of Calvert Hall in Baltimore who moved to the beach town about two years ago, say he began drinking heavily after arriving at the party about 11: 30 p.m. June 1. "I was with him all day before the party," said Krieger's roommate, 18-year-old Richie Baldwin. "He hadn't had one beer."

Krieger and Baldwin drove separately to the farm, about five miles outside Ocean City across Sinepuxent Bay from Assateague Island National Seashore. As the evening wore on, Krieger -- who friends say often drank to excess -- became violent.

"I never saw him all night when he didn't have a beer in each hand," Chullin said.

Court records show Krieger entered a guilty plea and received probation in April for possession of alcohol by a minor. An identical charge was dropped in August 1997.

Chullin and others wrestled with Krieger as he tried to leave the party in his Dodge pickup. About 1 a.m., he broke away, jumped into the truck, drove fast down the driveway of the farm, smashed through the wooden gate and onto Route 611.

"The gate just exploded when he hit it," Harrison said. "I had to jump out of the way or he would have run over me. I tried to follow him for his safety and for the safety of other people on the road."

Harrison says he did not see Krieger's truck crash, but came upon the wreck quickly and called 911. Police have told Krieger's family that the truck rolled several times and that he was thrown about 75 feet from the vehicle.

Pub Date: 6/11/99

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