~In Memoriam of Wendy and Kimberly Sands~.............

Proposed bill would stiffen penalties for adults who give alcohol to minors

 


Sherry Hampton-Sands kneels beside the grave of her daughter, Wendy Sands, and granddaughter, Kimberly Sands, Wednesday at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Apple Valley. The two were killed by a repeat offender drunken driver on June 10, 2000. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has exhibited the wreckage of the car that Wendy and Kimberly died in as part of MADD's efforts to discourage drunken driving. Sherry Hampton-Sands recently attended court with family members of victims killed by minors who were driving drunk on alcohol provided by an adult.
By LEROY STANDISH/Staff Writer

SAN BERNARDINO The penalty for providing alcohol to a minor could increase to a felony if a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, becomes law.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's office drafted the bill in reaction to a continuing number of incidents stemming from adults providing alcohol to minors.

"It is something the San Bernardino DA's office came to us with. Usually they don't come to us unless they have seen repeated incidents where this has happened," Runner said. "Unfortunately even in my life I have seen incidents where adults have given alcohol to minors and think nothing of it."

If passed, AB 454 could put adults who give even a single beer to a minor behind bars for years "based on the severity of the case," according to a statement from Runner's office released Wednesday. The bill was introduced Tuesday.

Supporters of Assembly Bill 454 say increasing the penalty will help prevent alcohol-related fatalities. Runner said the intent of the bill is to hold adults responsible for their actions.

Sherry Hampton-Sands, whose daughter and granddaughter were killed by a repeat-offender drunken driver June 10, 2000, said she has talked to Runner several times about AB 454. Hampton-Sands said she went to court with the mother of one of the victims from a February 2003 accident.

She said the sentences for drinking and driving being handed down by judges in the High Desert are far too lenient.

"This (bill) is being able to strengthen the law, which I am 100 percent for," Hampton-Sands said. "If parents provide them alcohol I don't consider it an accident at all, but if there is an accident I consider the parents responsible."

Hampton-Sands runs a victim-impact clinic for people convicted of drunken driving at the James A. Woody Community Center in Apple Valley once a month. She said local judges never send convicted drivers to the class.

"The recidivism rate on a victim-impact panel is only 18 percent," she said. "Isn't that kind of sad that judges in Victorville will not send people to a victim-impact panel? To me, judges are killing people."

Acknowledging there are tragedies that can come from providing youth with alcohol, some in the state Legislature said Runner is off the mark with this proposed legislation.

"It's not that I think it is a good idea to have underage drinking, but if giving a bottle of beer to a minor is a felony then you better build a whole lot more prisons," said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Echo Park. She sits on the Public Safety Committee where the bill will make its first stop.

"If we are going to get tough on somebody I would get tough on advertisers that target the young and the ones that say you can't have a good time without being intoxicated," Goldberg said. "So I think she has got the wrong target."

The bill was inspired by a February 2003 incident involving a 41-year-old woman who provided alcohol to youths in her home. When the teens left they were involved in a traffic accident that killed two people.

The woman who provided the teenagers the alcohol received 180 days in the County Jail and ordered to pay a $110 fine.

Runner acknowledges that it will be "an uphill battle" just to get the legislation through committee. Other members of the Public Safety Committee are resistant to the idea of converting misdemeanors to felonies because it would expose more people to the state's three-strikes law, she said.

Committee member Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, is one of those Runner will have to convince of the bill's merits. Bob Farrell, spokesman for Dymally said, "He (Dymally) has been in support of measures that have lessened the impact of three strikes."




   

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