Vivid reminder that prom, alcohol don`t mix

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Prom and graduation season is full of talks about dresses, dancing and college, but it’s also a time to have serious discussions about underage drinking and drunk driving. That’s a conversation Bob Houghtaling, Director of the East Greenwich drug program, and a panel of speakers wanted to highlight at “Safe at Home,” a public forum held at St. Luke’s Church in East Greenwich on Monday night.

About 40 people came to the forum to listen and ask questions of speakers with expertise on the subject at hand. Two East Greenwich School Resource Officers, Steve Branch and Bert Montalbon, described how they show their prom-age students presentations about the dangers of driving drunk.

“When I was a kid I thought I was invincible, and I think some of these kids think they’re invincible also,” said Montalbon. They don’t want to “gross them out,” but “We do want to scare them a little bit just show them what reality is all about. When a 3,000-pound vehicle suddenly stops and other forces act upon it, they can get hurt. That’s what we want them to realize.”

Brian Stern, a Superior Court Judge at Kent County Courthouse, was on hand to inform parents of underage drinking laws in Rhode Island. He discussed and gave attendees printouts of Rhode Island’s Social Host law, which makes it unlawful for any person 21 years of age or older to “purchase from any licensee or any employee of a licensee any alcoholic beverage for the sale, delivery, service of or giving away to, any person who has not reached his or her 21st birthday; to purchase from any licensee or any employee of any licensee any alcoholic beverage with the intent to cause or permit said alcoholic beverage to be sold, or given to any person who has not reached his or her 21st birthday; to knowingly furnish any alcoholic beverage for the sale, delivery, service of or giving to any person who has not reached his or her 21st birthday; to procure alcoholic beverages for the sale, delivery, service of or giving to any person who has not reached his or her 21st birthday; or to otherwise permit the consumption of alcohol by underaged persons in his or her residence or on his or her real property.” Penalties include various levels of fines and imprisonment.

Stern also detailed how sentencing is one of the most difficult parts of his job.

“I really want to put myself out of a job, that I’m not facing any more kids whose parents are telling me about their daughter who died and an 18 year old that I have to send to jail instead of going to college,” he said.

Richard Morsilli, whose 13-year-old son Todd was killed by a drunk driver 34 years ago, has told his story many times throughout the years, even through large outlets like Reader’s Digest and Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul. However, he still found himself getting teary as he spoke to the crowd on Monday. Morsilli said he doesn’t call the incident an “accident” because the teen girl who struck Todd had been “drinking all morning with her friends.”

“He brought so much joy. That makes it even harder to accept when something like that happens,” he said.

Todd was known for his tennis skills, and the Todd Morsilli Tennis Center in Providence aptly bears his name.

Wendy Therault, an East Greenwich resident with a 16-year-old son, said she attends many public forums like Safe at Home and finds Houghtaling “amazing at what he does.” She also said her son attended Youth to Youth, a drug prevention-focused development program for youth that was publicized at the forum, and enjoyed it more than he expected he would.

“He came home a changed kid… I’m really glad that I made him go,” she joked.

A Rhode Island Youth to Youth program takes place this summer at Bryant University, but immediate efforts to curb underage drinking are also underway locally. Safe at Home attendees were handed a flyer promoting an after-prom event at East Greenwich High School on May 19. The “all night extravaganza” will provide East Greenwich students with post prom entertainment in an alcohol and drug free environment.

In Warwick, Pilgrim’s Senior Prom is May 12 and Junior Prom is May 19. Toll Gate’s Junior Prom is May 12 and Senior Prom is May 19. Toll Gate Principal Candace Caluori said the school does not have an after-prom event, but Pilgrim Principal Gerry Habershaw said a Pilgrim after-prom event would begin at midnight on May 12 in the school gymnasium.

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