Recent alcohol charges highlight Hancock County hotspot of underage drinking at MMA

Posted Nov. 09, 2012, at 2:57 p.m.

CASTINE, Maine — In the span of a week, police have charged seven Maine Maritime Academy students during alcohol enforcement details at or near the school’s Castine campus.

Deputies with the county’s Alcohol Enforcement Team have targeted Castine in an effort to curb underage drinking and other violations of alcohol laws.

“Typically, you dedicate your resources to areas that need particular attention,” said Chris Thornton, a sheriff’s deputy and coordinator for the Hancock County Alcohol Enforcement Team. “I think the incidents in the past two weeks speak for themselves. It’s clear, this year, that Castine is the focal point of our investigation.”

Michael Blake, 18, of Florida was issued a summons for illegal possession of liquor by a minor and unlawful use of fictitious identification. When he was caught, Blake was on campus, headed home to his dorm room with a case of beer, Thornton said. The Georgia ID he gave police was deemed fake after Thornton noticed “Governor” was misspelled.

The same night, Evan Carrier, 19, of Lewiston was summoned on Water Street with illegal possession of liquor by a minor and unlawful use of identification after he gave police someone else’s driver’s license. Darren Shaw, 20, of Gorham was summoned on Pleasant Street on a charge of illegal transportation of liquor by a minor.

These three summonses come after four incidents on Thursday, Nov. 1, including one in which a student crashed his truck twice in one allegedly drunken joyride, and another was charged with driving drunk on his way to serve security duty on the training ship State of Maine.

Representatives from the HCSO and MMA were quick to point out that underage drinking is not a problem specific to the academy. Anyone who has attended, or even visited, an institution of secondary education knows that underage drinking is a fact of life, they said.

Still, Chief Deputy Richard Bishop said the rate of incidents at MMA seems to be on the rise. He couldn’t provide any firm numbers, but said the number of charges this school year already tops the handful recorded before graduation day last spring.

“Last year it seemed like we reached that turning point because the numbers were a lot lower,” Bishop said. “This year, we’ve already seen a large increase in offenses. This year, every time we go, it’s something.”

While the academy may be a somewhat natural hotspot for underage drinking in the county, the school’s administration has been an ally in attempting to curb dangerous or illegal activity, Bishop said. Not only have the academy and law enforcement officials worked together to educate students about responsible alcohol use, the school also has strict policies regarding alcohol, including fines and the possibility of suspension.

“We do have a policy that we implement vigorously, and we do it quickly,” said Mike Whetston, spokesman for MMA. “We don’t wait for the court to say this guy is guilty. We go on the preponderance of evidence.”

Students who run into trouble with the school’s alcohol rules — no booze in the undergraduate dormitory, for example — or who are caught drinking underage, face the school’s Unified Alcohol Hearings Board.

For a first offense, a student faces a $100 fine, community service and an online alcohol education program. A second offense sees placement on disciplinary probation, a doubled fine and community service sentence, and the student is made to see an alcohol abuse counselor. A third offense nets a semester-long suspension.

For violating alcohol rules or laws in conjunction with another crime — say, driving drunk — a student will face the school’s Honor Board, which metes out punishments at its discretion, up to and including expulsion.

Whetston said MMA is no different than any college, but its small size of less than 1,000 students means bad behavior disproportionately affects its reputation.

“We’re a small school in a small community, so any alcohol offense is going to stick out like a sore thumb,” he said.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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