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Underage drinking a growing concern in Gilford

March 31, 2010
After Heather Prefontaine, the mother of a high school student and a Gilford resident, was arrested for allegedly facilitating a drug/underage alcohol house party last month, concerns within the community have surfaced.

Gilford Police Department investigating Officer Dan O'Neil said he initially dealt with a couple juveniles leaving the residence of 30 Old Lakeshore Road last month. They did not appear intoxicated, he said, but they admitted that a party was going on inside.

O'Neil said the officers continued to monitor the house. The next morning they received a call at about 6:30 a.m., notifying them that one underage female who was at the party spent the early hours of the morning at the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

"She was well over the legal limit, 0.08. It was pushing the envelope of an aggravated (intoxication) meaning her blood alcohol level may have been around 0.16," said O'Neil.

O'Neil said Prefontaine has been charged on endangering the welfare of a child, unsworn falsification, and facilitating an underage drinking party.

"We are still investigating. Heather consented to a search of her downstairs area, and it was evident this was used as a party area. We collected evidence and statements from Heather and her son," said O'Neil.

As of last week, O'Neil said there hadn't been arraignment, but he assumes a trial will be held. He said the case is still "evolving."

O'Neil said he has dealt with underage drinking parties before, but this case is a little different.

"We have dealt with numerous underage parties, but almost never where the parents are the ones giving the kids the alcohol," said O'Neil.

He said Prefontaine is more than cooperating, and doing what the police ask of her, but he said she continues to deny that she held the alleged party.

Deb Laliberte of Gilford High School and chair of the Drug and Alcohol Task Force said that the task force has become increasingly concerned with related events occurring in Gilford and throughout the greater community.

"This is not the first time a parent has been arrested for (allowing) underage drinking. A woman was prosecuted (in Gilford) before, found guilty and charged. She too was condoning underage drinking," said Laliberte. "As an organization, we have held community-wide forums on underage drinking. We try to educate parents of the dangers and consequences of hosting parties."

Laliberte said the task force recently completed a survey, and she said some of the statistics were not favorable, since it appeared that higher numbers of high school students were participating in underage drinking.

"This is an issue. It occurs a lot more than the community chooses to recognize. There seems to be a belief that this is a right of passage, but the consequences are so different now, and we are not recognizing this as a community," said Laliberte. "This woman locked the doors and took away keys so people couldn't drive. Either way, it is not OK; it is still illegal. There is still a risk."

Laliberte said there are higher levels of high school binge drinking, five or more drinks, happening within the community. She said that the effects can be "alarming," yet some parents are condoning these behaviors by hosting parties.

Statistics also show that many teenagers are getting alcohol from friends, family, or their houses, rather than using a fake ID in a store, Laliberte said, and that this is a problem because it has become "a community wide acceptance."

Students will come into school at times with concerns of their own, said Laliberte, who noted that some students will speak with the GHS resource officer when they feel underage drinking has become a problem with their peers, or parents who have condoned this behavior. She said that sometimes parents are supportive, and sometimes they are not.

Laliberte added that the taskforce is pleased with the Gilford Police Department's response to the most recent incident, and said she hopes the charges set against Prefontaine will send a message to the community.

"The (task force statistic) results and this arrest will hopefully make the community more aware, and realize that this is Gilford's community wide concern," said Laliberte. "I hope the community will take some form of action, so another student is not injured again."

Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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