LAKE COUNTY – A new Illinois state law imposes penalties for parents or guardians who provide alcohol to minors on private property including vehicles, boats, and motor homes, and private planes.
The Lake County Sheriff's Office intends to enforce the new laws on the county's many lakes come boating season, according to Sgt. James McKinney of Lake County Sheriff's Office's Marine Unit.
As of Jan. 1, there is a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail for knowingly providing underage drinking to occur, McKinney said.
"If death results from providing alcohol to minors, the adult is subject to be charged with a felony," McKinney said, adding that the law also includes provisions for social hosting and parties in which adults provide alcohol to minors.
Mike Nerheim, Lake County state's attorney, said his office has "seen tragic examples of what underage drinking results in."
"We hope that this legislation will encourage parents and guardians to be more vigilant," Nerheim said. "We also hope that this legislation will set a precedence to discourage parents in hosting social events that involve underage drinking in their homes.”
McKinney said the new state laws are a result of local tragedies.
"The new laws come on the backs of two incidents. One incident took place on the Chain O'Lakes, when a young boy was run over by a boat," McKinney said, adding that the other incident was in 2006 when two minors were killed when the driver had a blood alcohol level of .132 and hit a tree.
"That's why these laws were tightened up, from my understanding," McKinney said.
The laws were sponsored by Illinois state senators Pam Altoff (R-32nd) and Julie Morrison (D-29th), McKinney said.
According to the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force website, teens who drink before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking after age 21.
Cmdr. Willie Meyer of the Gurnee Police Department said his department issued 52 citations for underage consumption of alcohol in 2014.
"The best thing a parent can do to discourage underage drinking is to take a hard stance against it," Meyer said. "Parents need to be involved with their kids and know their comings and goings to help prevent the kids from making bad choices."
McKinney said the Lake County Sheriff's Office "takes drinking when operating a car or boat very seriously."
"Operating a boat while intoxicated seriously contributed to a young man being killed out there on our lakes," McKinney said. "We're obliged to enforce the law and make sure the Chain is safe for everyone [and residents aren't] subjected to illegal behavior."
Driving a boat under the influence of alcohol is "probably just as dangerous, if not more dangerous" than driving a vehicle due to delayed reaction time and the lack of roadway indicators on the water, McKinney said, adding minors as young as 12 can operate a boat under the supervision of a guardian after obtaining a boating safety certification from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Visit www.drugfreelakecounty.org for information on the prevention of underage drinking and drug abuse in Lake County.