By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — A Pheasant Run Drive mother last week joined an ever-expanding group of parents recently prosecuted by the Essex County district attorney’s office for allowing minors to drink alcohol inside their homes.
Laura Hines, 52, reached a plea agreement with Essex County prosecutors last Friday that allowed her to avoid jail time for a charge of selling/delivering liquor to a person under 21 filed against her after police broke up an under-aged drinking party at her home last June.
By admitting to sufficient facts that she supplied alcohol to minors, the charge against Hines will be continued without finding for 1 1/2 years. Should she stay out of trouble during that time and pay $550 in penalties, the charge against her will be dropped.
“The district’s attorney’s office has spent considerable time and resources educating parents and young people about the Social Host law because we all know that when young people consume alcohol, often times tragedy results. These tragedies are entirely preventable,” Essex Country district attorney spokeswoman Carrie Kimball-Monahan said yesterday.
According to the state’s Social Host law, parents found guilty of supplying alcohol to non-related minors can be sentenced to a year in jail, a fine of $2,000 or both. Should death or injuries result from an under-aged drinking party, parents or others hosting the parties could face far higher monetary penalties in the form of civil suits.
Last month, a 42-year-old Peabody mother, Deborah Arnott, pleaded guilty to the same charge and was sentenced to 1 year of probation, related to a 2011 party at her home after which two teen guests were charged with drunken driving. According to prosecutors, Arnott’s son, Brandon, had about 20 underage friends at his home for a drinking party. When his mother Deborah arrived home at approximately 10 p.m., she told the guests to sleep over and then went to bed. At some point in the evening, two guests left her home and were later charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Essex County district attorney’s office.
According to court documents, Hines’ home was the location of a June 23, 2012, graduation party that involved a backyard tent and high school students drinking beer outside. Acting on an anonymous tip, police parked an unmarked cruiser a few houses down and began walking toward the house.
By the time they reached the address, two teen-aged girls were seen leaving the backyard area with beers in hand and walking toward a parked car. Police raced back to their cruiser, but by the time they caught up with the girls, they had left the scene and were swerving in and out of traffic lanes. When ordered to pull over, the driver barely missed striking a telephone pole. Interviewing the two girls, police found open beer bottles inside the car. Asked where they obtained the alcohol, the girls both pointed to Hines’ house.
After calling the station for additional units, police returned to Hines’ home and witnessed other high school students drinking beer while standing in the driveway. Police soon were able to locate Hines, who told them that she told guests not to leave her home. Upon further questioning, Hines changed her story and said she had no idea students were drinking, court records stated. Eventually, Hines showed officers the backyard where several teens were standing around two kegs drinking alcohol. Summonses were issued to several teens and Hines was informed that she too would be summonsed, according to police.
Charges against Hines and the Newburyport High School students were the direct result of what Newburyport police call “party patrols.” The initiative, funded in part by the Newburyport-based Beacon Coalition, allows police greater flexibility to combat under-aged drinking, be it by busting up house parties or conducting sting operations at pouring establishments and package stores.
Launched in 2006, The Beacon Coalition is a multi-faceted group that looks to find solutions to reduce under-age use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Its members include the police department and Newburyport Youth Services.
City Marshal Thomas Howard said party patrols not only respond to tips of under-aged drinking parties but actively seek them out. Over the years police have broken up not only house parties but outdoor parties, parties inside vacation or vacant homes and other venues popular with teens.
“We’ve seen them all,” Howard said yesterday.