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DEATH TOO OFTEN CRASHES TEENS’ DRINKING PARTIES

SHARE DEATH TOO OFTEN CRASHES TEENS’ DRINKING PARTIES

As a high school cheerleader in Vacaville, Calif., Angelina Suth had a lot of friends. But after moving to Springville in July, she had a hard time getting to know people.

Angelina's grandfather, Normal Suth, believes his granddaughter's desire to make new friends prompted her to join about 20 other teenagers at a drinking party last month in Lake Fork Canyon near Thistle."It was so out of character for her," Normal said. "But for some reason she felt like she didn't fit in up here and she was trying really hard to make friends. She just went to the wrong place to find them."

Angelina came to Utah to attend Utah Valley Community College - hoping someday to become a dentist. Instead, she returned to California two months later in a casket.

Angelina was killed in a car accident early Sept. 10 while returning from the party with two other teenagers. Their car went off a narrow gravel road and rolled down a steep embankment. The other two suffered serious injuries.

A Utah County sheriff's detective said a blood test revealed no alcohol in Angelina's blood when she died. A large container of beer, however, was found at the accident scene.

Detective Scott Carter said An-gelina's story is not an isolated one. Drinking parties cause several deaths each year. Sometimes it's in a car accident, and sometimes it's from an overdose.

"I can't tell you the number of cases where people have died from alcohol-related deaths," Carter said.

Since January, he said, alcohol overdoses have claimed two people in Utah County. The first victim, a young man, died in April at a drinking party west of Utah Lake. He passed out by the campfire. His friends, thinking he was asleep, put him in his sleeping bag.

"They thought he could sleep it off, when he was actually in a coma," Carter said.

Sheriff's Capt. Owen Quarnberg said drinking parties have resulted in drownings, deaths from exposure and murder. However, he said, drinking parties cause more problems than just death. They are often the scene of assault, rape, theft and property damage. They are also the place where many teenagers use drugs for the first time, he said.

"There's a multitude of hazards that take place around these parties," Quarnberg said.

Patrol Division Commander David Lamph said criminal acts, in addition to illegal use of alcohol or drugs, occur at every drinking party.

Because victims usually don't want to be placed at the party, most of these crimes go unreported. He said the combination of peer pressure and loss of inhibition caused by drinking increases vulnerability to crime.

"If you have people whose reasoning powers are greatly reduced, then these kinds of things are going to happen," Lamph said.

Statutory rape occurs frequently at drinking parties, Lamph said. In most cases it goes unreported for several months. When it finally is reported, it is difficult to prove, he said.

"We're always having parents come in two months after the party and report a statutory rape incident involving their 15-year-old daughter," he said.

Lamph said a drinking party takes place somewhere in Utah County every weekend. The parties are held in canyons and other remote areas where teenagers can get away from family, friends and law enforcement. Parties range in size from 10 to more than 100 people.

"I've been here for 18 years and it has always been a common problem," Quarnberg said.

Utah County's "keg ordinance" makes it illegal in unincorporated areas to possess a container of alcohol that holds three gallons or more.

Quarnberg said the ordinance includes the new "party ball" containers that are becoming popular among teenagers. In addition to cracking down on drinking parties, the sheriff's department is going after businesses and individuals who supply teenagers with alcohol, Quarnberg said.

"If we can keep alcohol out of teenagers' hands by stopping those who are supplying it, then maybe we can reduce the problem significantly," Quarnberg said. Until then, teenagers will continue to drink, drive and die.

Normal Suth says it's too late for warnings to help his granddaughter, but he hopes her story will help others avoid the tragedy of losing a loved one to alcohol.

"Our life hasn't been the same since," he said. "And it never will be again."