The death of 17-year-old Kendall Walton of Hilton Head Island in November has prompted a new initiative to fight teen alcohol and drug abuse.
We wish the organizers well, especially when it comes to reaching out to the community at large for help.
Alcohol and drug abuse among teens is far more prevalent than any of us would like to admit. To stop it -- or at least reduce it -- requires a consistent message that starts early. And it must be repeated year after year for the next group of young people -- and the next and the next.
That's where we fall short here. We haven't kept up that sustained, yet urgent, message. Too often, efforts are prompted by a single event with tragic results.
So what can we do? At an organizing meeting earlier this month, Sean Alford, chief of Beaufort County School District's instructional services, talked about a specific scenario: We're at the store and see a teenager buying a case of beer. The clerk doesn't ask for ID. Alford asked, "Do you stop the purchase?
"Too many times, parents and community members are not responding in what I would say is an appropriate way when we see those things happen," he said.
We should speak up when we know something is amiss. But checking identification doesn't guarantee underage youth will be stopped from buying alcohol. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office reported that Walton, who died Nov. 17 when the car she was driving hit a tree, purchased alcohol three times over several days that week. Two times she showed an ID that wasn't hers, according to the report. The third time, the day before she died, she wasn't asked to show an ID.
It illustrates what we are up against, but it shouldn't persuade us that teen drinking is inevitable. Unfortunately, some adults in our community take that position. They host parties where teens drink on the misguided notion that drinking with some adult supervision is better than no adult supervision.
But they are taking on more risks than just enabling teen drinking. A 2005 state Supreme Court decision clearly laid out that social hosts are liable when they provide alcohol to an underage person who is subsequently injured or dies. That's true even if that person is 18 or older, but not 21.
Alford pointed to efforts in other communities as potential models for the work here, including the Community Roundtable of Irmo, Dutch Fork and Chapin.
Among that group's goals are:
That broad approach is essential. Parents are a key part of any prevention effort, but they need our help. And it must continue beyond the headlines of a single incident.