GRANT COUNTY - 2008 was a big year for minor in possession citations in the county.

"It's definitely a problem in this area," said Oregon State Police Trooper Erich Timko, who's been with OSP for seven years.

He says he issued more minor in possession citations last year than any of his previous years in law enforcement.

He was on scene for three of the big MIP busts last year.

He was the primary officer on scene in 2008 when seven were cited for MIP, two for furnishing alcohol to a minor and another for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.

Timko also assisted in the biggest bust last year, where at least 12 minors were cited.

"There were some as young as 15 at that party," he added.

Yet another party resulted in four MIP citations. One youth, he said, had been cited three times within a short period.

Timko pointed out three of his immediate concerns with underage drinking:

? Violence can stem from it easily, especially between teenage boys.

? Sexual relationships can result from it, and minor and older males may prey on girls who are under the influence of alcohol.

? Injuries and deaths can occur when the partiers get behind the wheel.

He says that even the kids who plan to behave responsibly may encounter circumstances where they end up driving under the influence.

Typically the underage drinkers are greatly impaired even with lower amounts of alcohol, he said.

"If you're found guilty of MIP, your license is suspended," Timko said. This newer law which took effect in January 2008 "surprised a few individuals," he noted.

Grant County Justice of the Peace Terry Farrell said that for those who are 18 and up to 21 years of age, "any alcohol or drug related offense, we are required to suspend them for at least 90 days."

"I hope it's a deterrent to kids drinking," he said.

Through the Grant County Juvenile Department, those under 18 receiving their first MIP may enter into a voluntary formal accountability agreement, in certain circumstances. They receive six months probation, a 45-day license suspension, education classes and a choice of 32 hours community service or a $200 fine and eight hours of community service. Those under 16 receive a 6 p.m. curfew.

If juveniles choose to have a hearing and are found guilty before the judge, their license is suspended for one year or until they are 17, whichever is longer. The judge can reinstate it one time after 90 days.

"Judge (William) Cramer always asks who supplied the alcohol," says Ken Boethin, director of the juvenile department; if he thinks the juvenile is not being honest he generally increases the community service.

With a second MIP conviction, the license is suspended for one year or until the juvenile turns 18, whichever is longer, plus fines and community service.

As far as prevention goes, Timko says, "I think it begins and ends with the parents - the police are the aftermath."

His main advice to teens: "Don't get into a vehicle with someone who has been drinking," even if it entails calling a parent, a friend or even the police. Tragically, he said, the passengers often end up getting more injured, or killed, than the offending driver.

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