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A Harford County town hall meeting on youth and underage drinking Tuesday night drew a fairly slim crowd, although those who came seemed to find the meeting useful.

Joe Ryan, manager of the county's Office of Drug Control Policy, and Charlie Robbins, chief inspector for the county's liquor control board, hosted the presentation to an audience consisting mostly of members and parents from Boy Scout Troop 564.

Ryan said the crowd was typical for this town hall meeting, which takes place once a year.

The event was also sponsored by the Harford County Sheriff's Office and FACE-IT (Faith Activated Community Empowering Intervention Training), a faith-based coalition to prevent and combat youth substance abuse.

Robbins first spoke of the liquor control board's role and activities, and brought an array of fake IDs for children to look through.

He said the board has trained more than 800 employees in 60 businesses during the past year to recognize false identification.

"When I was growing up, they would print out your driver's license on a typewriter, and you could fix it with Wite-Out. It's not like that anymore," he said, citing the professional quality of most fake IDs.

Ryan did say the key to preventing teen alcohol abuse is parent involvement.

"The most powerful thing is parents talking to their children," he said. "When you are at a party, the booze and marijuana are going to come out. It's been that way for 40 years. Alcohol kills more people than any other drug out there."

Debbie Hardy, a victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she had hoped the room would be packed and thinks the news of every young person arrested in a drunk-driving crash should be on the front page of The Aegis and Cecil Whig.

She also came down firmly on the side of the "Just say no" approach to alcohol use.

"The message is, don't start drinking. It's not worth it," she said, adding that parents having a drink at a restaurant also sets a bad example because the drinking parent will usually go ahead and drive home.

Jeff Vetter, of North East, reinforced the message by relaying the story of his daughter, 20-year-old Jessie, who was killed three years ago by a 22-year-old drunk driver who struck her after leaving a bar only two minutes from his house.

"The devastation it caused my family is indescribable," Vetter, visibly emotional after watching a slide show about his daughter, said. "It's something that I wouldn't wish on anybody. It turned me into a different person."

Until he came to terms with his daughter's death, Vetter said he went out several times with a gun because he wanted to kill the perpetrator.

"He [the driver] talked about how he used to hang out with friends and drink because his friends thought it was cool. This was a good kid who made a mistake," he said. "If you think it's cool to hang out and drink with your friends, don't do it. It's just not a good thing to do. It's just way more trouble than it's worth."

Several people said the event was at least partly useful, including Amber Miller, 14, and Tiffany Taylor, 17, both of Aberdeen.

"It was a good presentation," Amber said. "More kids should come out and be part of this."

Tiffany agreed with one of Ryan's messages, about parental responsibility.

"Parents should encourage [teens] to stay in and if they do go out, they should know where they go," she said.


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