Parents who host underage drinking parties could face jail time if the General Assembly passes a bill proposed by a Montgomery County lawmaker.
The measure, proposed by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-District 15), is in response to a deadly collision in June that killed two recent graduates of Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville. County police have reported the driver involved—Samuel Ellis, 19—had been drinking at a party at the North Potomac house of Kenneth Saltzman, while Saltzman, 49, was present and knew what was happening. The collision killed Calvin Li, 18, and Alexander Murk, 18, and seriously injured Ellis. Ellis has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in the case.
Under current law, adults who furnish alcohol to underage individuals who are not direct family members face a $2,500 maximum fine. Saltzman pleaded guilty to two counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor in December in relation to the incident and was fined $2,500 per violation.
Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill would increase the penalty for violations to include a jail sentence lasting up to a year for a first offense as well as a $5,000 fine. A second offense could result into up to 2 years in jail and a fine up to $7,500. The bill would not apply to workers at a bar, restaurant or liquor store.
“I looked at what happened from beginning to end [in the North Potomac case] and I found it very disturbing what happened in that house,” Fraser-Hidalgo said in an interview Thursday. “A $5,000 total fine was an incomplete penalty and I’m concerned no lesson was learned and this is just going to happen again.”
Fraser-Hidalgo added that including possible jail time for hosting an underage drinking party may “shake up some of the parents who think it’s cool to host underage drinking parties.”
The delegate said he has met with the Murk family, who will be supporting the legislation, as well as Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger, who is also supporting the bill.
“We commend Del. Fraser-Hidalgo for recognizing the appalling inadequacy of the current Maryland social host laws and stand 100% behind him in his effort to increase the severity of penalties,” Pamela and David Murk, Alex’s parents, said in a statement provided by their attorney, “We can only hope the Maryland General Assembly has enough moral gumption to do the right thing by passing a bill that would deter the Saltzmans and other parents in our communities from hosting underage drinking parties so no other family has to endure the incredible pain we have in losing a son or daughter ever again.”
The North Potomac case isn’t the only recent instance of parents reportedly hosting underage drinking parties. In November, Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin sent an email to parents advising them not to host any underage drinking parties after he learned that some had recently hosted such parties.
“Parents, find other ways to bond with your child. Please,” Goodwin wrote.
In an October interview, Manger said the law relating to the issue needs to be strengthened.
“If parents that do this are held accountable, both criminally, civilly, you name it, and those stories get out, maybe it will have an impact,” Manger said.
Fraser-Hidalgo said he’s “fairly optimistic” the bill could gain enough support to pass the legislature because it may also appeal to lawmakers from other jurisdictions. He said his first goal will be to get the unanimous support of the Montgomery County delegation, and then he hopes the bill can gain traction in the legislature’s judiciary committee and be considered for a full vote.
“It’s not a parent’s job to be cool,” Fraser-Hidalgo said. “It’s their job to raise a child into a respectable adult. Anything we can do to prevent this kind of accident, it’s our responsibility as legislators to do.”