The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

June 27, 2012

Our View: 'Hard End' necessary

Missouri law involving teens, alcohol and the adults who supply it could soon be turned upside down.

Hooray.

A judge in Kansas City is considering whether an adult — in this case a 47-year-old woman — should be tried for involuntary manslaughter after she allegedly served alcohol to minors, one of whom then got into an accident that killed another minor.

According to The Associated Press, if Jackson County Judge Peggy Stevens McGraw allows the charge to stand against Sandra S. Triebel, it would overturn “a long legal tradition in Missouri of blaming only drunken drivers for fatal accidents, rather than the person who supplied the alcohol.”

That is one tradition not worth carrying on.

Triebel allegedly supplied the alcohol at a party in 2009 to Kenneth Blake II, 19, who later left the party and was involved in a traffic accident that killed a 16-year-old passenger in another vehicle.

The allegations, if true, make this a no-brainer: Triebel knew Blake was a minor, she bought the drinks and mixed them herself, and knew Blake was drunk. Not just tipsy, but stumbling, fall-down-on-your-face plastered. His blood alcohol level was more than 2.5 times the legal limit.

Now, no one is saying Blake isn’t responsible. In fact, he has already pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter as well as two counts of assault.

But Triebel’s action, according to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, constitutes “criminal negligence.”

Misdemeanor counts that might have been filed without the fatal accident — supplying liquor to a minor and/or allowing a minor to drink intoxicating liquor on her property — are hardly adequate.

Triebel’s attorney argues that we “don’t hold people responsible for a third party’s actions. ... People serve underage people all the time in Missouri, but we don’t have another person charged with involuntary manslaughter.”

But, if she knows the person is underage, if she buys and mixes the booze, and if she knows the person is drunk, we should. This is no more complicated than 1+1+1=3.

Triebel does not appear to be a third-party in the sense that she was the owner of a liquor store who sold alcohol to a kid with a fake ID, but rather she appears to be a direct contributor.

Ralph Blackman, president of the Century Council, a nonprofit funded by the liquor industry that fights drunken driving and underage drinking, said if Triebel is convicted and the case stands on appeal, Missouri would be on the “hard end” of penalties nationwide.

Then the “hard end” it is.

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