Another teenager has died in an alcohol-related traffic accident in Buffalo County, and while the driver in the crash will face justice, it is possible that a person who played a major role in the fatality may not be charged.
Investigators are attempting to uncover who purchased the alcohol found at the scene of the crash in rural Amherst that led to the death of 18-year-old Rebecca Fischer of Hartington.
Sheriff’s deputies found at least a case of beer at the crash site, but they don’t know who procured it. If this case follows the usual pattern, only the driver, 20-year-old Cody Nilson of Kearney, will be held accountable in Fischer’s death.
The buyer could go scot-free because underage drinkers rarely reveal who bought their alcohol. By social norms, buyers enjoy protected status, even though by purchasing alcohol for youths they could be placing others in grave danger.
Buffalo County investigators could not comment on the Amherst fatality, but Phelps County Attorney Tim Hoeft shared with the Hub that only about five procurement cases annually are prosecuted in Phelps and Buffalo counties.
That’s amazing. Out of the dozens of arrests for underage drinking and minor in possession, only about five buyers face consequences.
The batting record for law officers is horrendous, but it isn’t because they’re not trying to uncover the buyers. Plenty of effort goes into bringing buyers to justice, but because underage drinkers don’t divulge whom their suppliers are, there is nobody to prosecute.
Buyers are a big problem. They undermine an array of efforts to keep alcohol from teenagers. Awareness programs, server training and legislative measures teach about the risks of underage drinking and target violators.
As a result of these efforts, vendors are more cautious whom they sell to, municipalities more carefully screen liquor license applicants, and officers more diligently enforce underage drinking laws. However, all of these efforts matter little when buyers supply teens and nullify all the safeguards.
In January, it became a felony to provide alcohol if serious injury or death results to minors. If convicted, buyers face a minimum of 30 days in jail and maximum of a fine and five years in prison.
The stiffer law is well intentioned, but its penalties should be two-pronged: Punish buyers, but also punish underage drinkers who refuse to cooperate in bringing buyers to justice.