A sobering look at DUIs

Camp C.O.P.S. teaches youths the consequences of alcohol use

July 16, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

Experiencing the debilitating effects of alcohol might be the last activity you'd expect at a summer camp sponsored by state and local police departments.

But Carroll County kids experienced the feeling of being drunk, without consuming any alcoholic beverages, when they donned vision-impairment glasses and drove a golf-cart around an obstacle course.

Most of the campers ran over numerous orange cones, crushing the "people" and "trees" they represented.

"It's important to educate them now so they have it in their heads once they get to high school," said Melissa Mannino, 20, the head counselor for the purple squad, one of five color-coded teams at Camp C.O.P.S, which stands for Courage to be Outstanding with Pride and Self-confidence. "Once they are in high school, personally speaking, that's when the pressure and underage-drinking parties start," said Mannino, an Eldersburg resident and Liberty High School graduate.

Around 85 youths participated in sobriety checkpoints and observed a mock trial involving a case of driving under the influence last week during the county's eighth annual Camp C.O.P.S., sponsored by state police in Westminster.

The open pastures and pavilions at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster provided the space for the camp.

The emphasis on alcohol and drug abuse prevention comes as local law enforcement agencies ratchet up efforts to combat underage drinking in the county.

The Carroll County state's attorney started a Task Force on Underage Alcohol Abuse in late March. A billboard on eastbound Route 140 followed, warning parents of the legal implications of serving alcohol to teenagers - just in time for the graduation season.

Most of the campers, between 10 and 14 years old, said they have not been pressured to drink. However, at least three of the kids were referrals from the Department of Juvenile Services, said Cameo Shipley, 28, a local case manager with the agency.

One had a problem with running away from home, another with shoplifting. Shipley called the offenses minor.

Trooper Dave Keller helps run the camp and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs in the schools. His daughter Ashley, 12, a rising eighth-grader at East Middle School in Westminster, was among the campers.

"It's a mixture of kids," Keller said. "You've got straight-A students standing in formation next to kids who hate school."

Simulating a sobriety checkpoint for the campers, Shipley pretended to be a drunken driver, swerving in her silver Volkswagen Jetta on Farm Museum Road. Keller pulled up in his black Explorer to stop her, with sirens sounding. Why did she swerve?

"There was a kitten in the road," Shipley said, her hands glued to the steering wheel.

"Yeah, right," said some of the campers from the blue and green squads, who sat patiently and watched.

"Now, I will not talk to her like she's a bad person," Keller said, modeling the correct police procedures. "I will call her ma'am. I will treat her with respect."

Furthering the role-play, Shipley then admitted that she had one alcoholic beverage at breakfast.

Keller administered three sobriety tests. He checked her horizontal gaze, watching for a nerve of the eye to bounce, as it does when someone is intoxicated. He made her stand on one leg. She also unsuccessfully tried to walk a straight line.

When Shipley failed all three, Keller handcuffed her and placed her under arrest.

"What do I do before I put her in my car?" Keller asked.

"Search her!" the kids fired back, in unison.

"Now, I'm using the back of my hands, since she's a female," Keller added.

At the farm museum pavilion, the campers served as the jurors in Shipley's mock DUI trial. Presiding over the courtroom, wearing a black robe with gavel in hand, was George Butler, an investigator with the state's attorney's office.

In the mock trial, the jury unanimously found Shipley guilty. The court discovered it was her "fourth" drunken-driving offense.

She was sentenced to weekend detention in jail for a year. She would also have to install a $1,000 device in her car, which prevents the ignition from starting until the driver has passed a Breathalyzer test.

Jenni Ralph, 11, of Woodbine, heard about the camp through her Young Marines club and from her uncle, a Westminster city police officer. Her mother, Carla Ralph, works for the state's attorney in Howard County.

"When I go to work with her, I go in the jail and see the consequences," Jenni said. "When you know what happens, you just don't want to do it," she said of drunken driving.

This was Maya Daack's first year at the camp. Maya, 11, of Westminster, said she plans to come back next year.

She said she found the "drunken" golf-cart driving particularly instructive.

"A lot of people were not very good at it," she said after the trial. " [Drunken driving] could get you put in jail. You can kill other people or even kill yourself."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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