ROCKINGHAM -- An anonymous report on Tuesday led Vermont State Police to 55 Overpass Road, where authorities cited eight Bellows Falls Union High School seniors for underage drinking and placed one under arrest.
According to police, troopers from the Rockingham barracks responded to the residence at roughly 1:45 p.m. to investigate the anonymous report received by the Bellows Falls Police Department and found that Kya Coursen, a resident of the home, was hosting a party 14 seniors were attending as a part of "Senior Skip Day." Eight of the people in the home had been consuming alcohol and were given tickets for the violation.
As a result of her involvement in hosting the party, Coursen was arrested and brought to the Rockingham barracks, where she was processed. Coursen was released on a citation to appear in court at a later date to answer to the charge of furnishing to minors; enabling consumption by minors.
Attempts to contact BFUHS Principal Chris Hodsden and Assistant Principal John Broadley were unsuccessful, but Windham Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Chris Kibbe said the students’ absences are being dealt with in accordance with school policy.
Capt. Ray Keefe, the commander of Troop D of the Vermont State Police, said it is common practice for the police to respond to underage drinking parties by sending several troopers because youngsters typically run off when they see the police. He said he is happy Tuesday’s case did not end tragically.
"This is the worst time of year (for underage drinking), it’s right before the summer," Keefe said. "We will be looking, we will be listening and we will be getting phone calls, I’m sure."
He told the Reformer parents who host underage drinking parties face the harshest consequences, as they could face criminal charges and be sued in civil court if someone is hurt or killed when driving from a party they hosted.
"I can’t think of a worst thing to do," Keefe said.
The springtime is notorious as the season in which teenagers find themselves in trouble with the law, as prom and graduation provide extra peer pressure to engage in bad habits.
Many communities take steps to curb any inappropriate behavior. Hinsdale (N.H.) Middle/High School teamed up with the Hinsdale Police Department to simulate the aftermath of a fatal car crash on May 2, the day before prom. Drew Hazelton, the chief of operations at Rescue Inc., assisted in the "emergency" and told the Reformer he believes a well-done simulation can prevent student from making bad decisions.
"It’s to help demonstrate to the students the seriousness of their choices," he said. "We hope the awareness is enough to deter kids from making bad choices. And there is quite often connections to tragedies that have happened -- hopefully the kids will go home and talk to their parents about what they’ve seen over their lives and make some personal connections that will encourage them to make the right decisions."
Greater Falls Connections, a prevention coalition located in Bellows Falls, said parents play the most important role in preventing bad behavior by teenagers. Chad Simmons, the media coordinator at GFC, said mothers and fathers need to act like parents and "not a bartender." He acknowledged that some uncomfortable conversations may be needed, but it makes a real difference to a young person who is facing peer pressure.
"It’s really about having a level of trust, setting good expectations, communicating the consequences and, also, talking with other parents," he said.
GFC also takes part in a Safe Parties campaign, which encourages substance-free interactions between teenagers. Simmons said it started the weekend of prom (early May) and goes until the end of June. He also said it is important to highlight the long-term health affects of underage drinking; people who start drinking by the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependency than those who wait until they are 21.
"This is the time of their lives where they take risks," he said.
Beth Shrader, the director of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, said her group does not take part in simulated car crashes, like Hinsdale does, because they are not very effective.
"They’re very short-term. It’s not really a preventive thing. It has no long-term effect," she said frankly. "Once it’s out of their memories, it really has no impact on them."
Instead, BAPC has started some campaigns geared to steering young people in the right direction. Shrader said "Parents Who Host Lose The Most" is aimed at preventing parents from having underage drinking parties at their home and Above the Influence 802 includes pledges students can take to stay sober until they are 21. The BAPC also provides a parent’s guide to graduation, prom and parties that sheds light on the serious issue.
"Parents have the most influence over the kids and whether they engage in any risky behavior," she said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.