Ohio bill seeks felony charge for adults giving alcohol to minors

In the early morning hours of Father’s Day 2020, Frank and Sharon Pacek received a call from Medina Twp. Police Department about their 19-year-old son, Trevor.

Officers summoned them to a house where Trevor and two friends had a bonfire and party.

The details are etched in Sharon Pacek’s memory: Arrived at 6 a.m. No sign of Trevor. Officers told him the teenagers had been drinking alcohol when they took a small boat onto a pond. It capsized. Her son was dead.

The Pacek family is now working with state Rep. Sharon Ray, R-Wadsworth, to change state law and make it a crime for adults to supply alcohol to minors if it results in a death.

Under the bill announced on Tuesday, House Bill 674, offenders would be charged with a fourth degree felony. If it becomes law, it would require the courts to impose a mandatory jail term of six to 18 months.

A parent of one of the boys at the party pleaded no contest to charges of tampering and supplying alcohol to minors. The charges were a misdemeanor, a fine of $2,817, and he was sentenced to 120 days in jail, 200 hours of community service and five years of probation.

“The sentence is long but it does not go far enough,” said Sharon Pacek.

She said the details of her son’s death remain etched in her memory.

“Law enforcement brought in a dead dog,” she said. “To this day, I can still hear that dog’s bark. His bark gave me hope.”

But soon after, the barking suddenly stopped. Silence fell on the property when Sharon realized her son’s body had been found.

“I knew Trevor wouldn’t be coming back with us,” Sharon said. “He wouldn’t be home celebrating Father’s Day with his dad.”

Sharon and Frank Pacek lost their 19-year-old son, Trevor, after a boating accident involving alcohol.  They now hope Rep. Sharon Ray's new bill will help end future tragedies by increasing penalties in cases where adults give alcohol to minors, resulting in death.

What is the current law?

Under current Ohio law, it is illegal to give alcohol to a minor and would result in a first-degree misdemeanor. Violators could face a maximum of six months in jail, up to a $1,000 fine or both.

Currently, the law does not distinguish between violations that result in death and those that do not.

The Paceks wrote Governor Mike DeWine about their son’s death asking for his support on legislation such as Ray’s bill. DeWine responded by expressing that he would support increased penalties in cases such as Trevor’s.

In 2021, the Ohio State Highway Patrol reported that there were 25 deaths from alcohol-related and teenage car crashes. This year, four alcohol-related and teenage deaths have been reported.

The bill has been referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee, but Ray said it may not get a hearing until the fall. But with proms, graduations and summer vacation coming up for many underage students, Ray said she hopes the bill will raise awareness.

“It is now that [adults] should start thinking about it when hosting young adult parties,” Ray said.

Ray said she intended to name the bill “Trevor’s Bill” in honor of Trevor.

“There’s a reason you’re not allowed to drink until you’re 21,” Ray said. “And giving alcohol to someone else’s child can lead to tragedy, just like Trevor.”

Teen drinking:Ohio could make it easier to charge adults who ‘allow’ underage drinking

Other bills seek to toughen Ohio’s drinking laws

Ray’s is Ohio’s latest bill to change current liquor laws. Earlier this yearlawmakers introduced HB 418 making it easier to prosecute owners or businesses that allow underage drinking.

In Marchlawmakers introduced HB 574 that would change a century-old law that allows alcohol to be sold but not given away at charitable or political events held in private homes.

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