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For the week of July 4 through July 11, 2000

Beer orgy

Authorities confront dozens of Wood River High students at a drinking bash near Stanley

"Parents need to know where their children are and that they could have been involved in an alcohol-related crash."

- Chris Cullen, Custer County deputy sheriff

Express Editor

Photo courtesy U.S. Forest ServiceIt started on Saturday, June 3, as a beer bash in the backcountry south of Stanley, some 60 miles northwest of Ketchum.

It ended with a multi-agency law enforcement raid during which dozens of Wood River High School students—many of whom were about to graduate in a week—were rounded up.

Eight teenagers were cited for underage drinking, according to authorities. More citations are pending.

Under Idaho law, individuals must be 21 years old to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages.

No one was injured during the roundup and there were no confrontations, an investigator said.

Details of the investigation were kept quiet for a month by law enforcement agencies while they worked with Ketchum and Hailey police in an effort to piece together how it happened and who was responsible.

Teaming together to round up and cite the teenagers for alleged illegal alcohol consumption were the Custer County Sheriff, the U.S. Forest Service and the Idaho State Police.

The Forest Service released the first details of the student drinking party on Friday night. The agency said in a brief news release that it expected to issue federal citations for allegedly destroying fragile ecology.

"Deep ruts and tire marks indicate that drivers spun their vehicles around creating ‘donuts’" in a nearby meadow area, said a statement from the Sawtooth National Forest office in Twin Falls.

Damage to the high elevation area’s fragile vegetation "may take decades to recover," the statement said.

Photos, which the Forest Service said it took of the damage, were e-mailed to media.

Pat Green, a Forest Service criminal investigator, estimated damage at $5,000 to a meadow not far from where the beer party was held.

Unlike the illegal alcohol consumption citations already issued, all of which are misdemeanors, "malicious mischief" Forest Service citations carry felony penalties.

"I’m not sure how we’ll go with this one," Green said in a Monday telephone conversation. "We’ve got a whole spectrum of things we could do with this. The main thing is we want the damage taken care of."

The investigation is continuing at both the local and federal levels.

Of the 100 to 150 boy and girl juveniles estimated by law enforcement to have participated in the beer party, approximately 40 were immediately rounded up.

Five of the teenagers have been convicted and sentenced by Custer County Magistrate Judge Charles Roos.

Ann Bresson, the court clerk, said the five were fined $150 each; ordered to participate in counseling; ordered to take part in two days of community service; had their driver’s licenses suspended for 90 days; and were placed on 90 days probation.

A sixth defendant is scheduled for sentencing next Monday, she said. Another has pled not guilty and has retained a lawyer. The eighth defendant’s case has been continued for six months.

"If it happened off school grounds, we don’t have anything to do with it," Bill Resko, the Wood River High School principal, said in response to a reporter’s inquiry. "It wouldn’t have any bearing on graduation.

"We can only do so much. The parents have to take over at some point."

The fact that no one was injured is the bottom line, according to Chris Cullen, a Custer County deputy sheriff who has been investigating the incident.

Cullen, 32, an eight-year law enforcement veteran, has been on the scene of many DUI-related crashes, some fatal. It didn’t happen in this case because officers didn’t allow anyone to leave the scene until the following day. This gave teenagers who had been drinking an opportunity to regain their sobriety.

"Parents need to know where their children are and that they could have been involved in an alcohol-related crash," Cullen said during a lengthy telephone interview Sunday night.

Cullen said among questions yet to be answered are:

 Where were seven confiscated kegs of Coors beer found at the meadow party purchased? Possible sales sources in Ketchum and Twin Falls are being pursued. Cullen said keg deposit slips have been recovered which could provide law enforcement with a road map to the source of the sale.

 Who made the purchase? "The seller sold to someone of legal age," Cullen surmises.

Cullen said law enforcement was tipped to the beer party by hikers coming out from an area about six miles up July 4th Creek, about 15 miles south of Stanley.

He said he arrived in his four-wheel drive sheriff’s white Ford Bronco at about 10:40 p.m.

Following him in two other vehicles were officers from the Forest Service and the state police.

Cullen recalled hearing music blasting from vehicle hi-fi systems as he pulled into an area near the creek. He saw youngsters standing around a bonfire.

Then, Cullen turned on his overhead red and blue flashing lights and, he said, almost "everyone took off."

Declared Cullen:

"Some kids who hadn’t been drinking stayed around the fire. Others ran into the brush and creek."

About 40 teenagers were eventually rounded up, he said. Following breath tests, at least eight teenagers, mostly males, were immediately cited for underage alcoholic consumption, he said.

In response to a reporter’s question, he said the only illegal substance on the scene was beer.

"They were very respectful," he said of the teenagers. "There were no confrontational problems."

An examination of teenagers’ identification showed they were all from the Wood River Valley, he said.

Three male students lied about their identification, he said.

Cullen was able to catch the three in lies, he said, because he took photos of teenagers cited who could not produce identification. He then matched the names he was given by the three with photos of them in Wood River High School yearbooks supplied by the Hailey Police Department, he said.

Since the investigation is continuing, Cullen requested that anyone with information about the incident call the Custer County Sheriff at 879-2232.

A weary Cullen and his colleagues and his law enforcement colleagues left the meadow at 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 5.

The next morning, he recalled, "the camp site was clean.

The citations and subsequent investigation, he said, has consumed dozens of hours. But, in the end, he said, "it is a worthwhile venture" in that it kept inebriated students off the road.

"We could have ended up with a fatal wreck," he said.

Mountain Express staff writers Greg Stahl and Travis Purser contributed to this story.


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