The day after Gov. Martin O'Malley's 18-year-old daughter was briefly hospitalized, apparently after drinking alcohol, the first lady called the incident a "teachable moment."
"We … encourage all parents and teenagers to be safe this graduation season," Katie Curran O'Malley said in a statement Friday.
Tara O'Malley, the second-eldest of the governor's four children, graduated Wednesday from Notre Dame Preparatory School and had been at a celebration Thursday. A Baltimore police officer found her "apparently unconscious" with a friend at the Inner Harbor about 7:30 p.m. She was treated at Harbor Hospital and released that night.
High school graduation brings with it parties and underage drinking, peaking during "senior week," a Maryland high school tradition that sees thousands go to Ocean City each June. Then it's off to college, where "drinking problems only get worse," said Michael Gimbel, Baltimore County's former drug czar and expert on substance abuse problems.
"When it comes to teens and drinking, not only is it an accepted behavior, it's an expected behavior," he said.
Tara O'Malley's hospitalization came the same week that a Boys' Latin lacrosse player charged with driving under the influence of alcohol was suspended from the team. Gimbel said there seems to be a "code of silence" among teens, parents, coaches and school administrators who "feel that drinking is a rite of passage. It's just not taken seriously."
Kurt Gregory Erickson, president and chief executive of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, said the O'Malley episode shows that "no family is immune from the impact of alcohol." A 2007 study by the Maryland State Department of Education found that 60 percent of the state's high school seniors had consumed alcohol in the past year and nearly half had participated in binge drinking.
The governor has worked to strengthen laws against underage drinking. Last year, O'Malley signed a ban on underage alcohol consumption — adding to laws on the books prohibiting teens from purchasing or possessing alcohol. The state also made it a crime to purchase alcohol for a minor, another O'Malley-backed measure.
The O'Malleys declined to provide details about their daughter, calling it a private, family matter. Katie O'Malley said in her statement that "Tara returned home last night and is feeling much better."
A source familiar with the incident said the young woman had been at a house party in Towson and went to the Inner Harbor with an 18-year-old male friend to board a boat. There, a person flagged down a city police officer, saying the young woman seemed intoxicated, the source said.
According to the police report, an officer on foot patrol at 7:30 p.m. saw a young woman who "appeared to be unconscious" in the 700 block of Light St. The officer called a medical unit, and responders determined that Tara O'Malley's condition was "non-life threatening." The young man was with her until medics took her to the hospital.
Baltimore Sun reporters Annie Linskey and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.