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Candid session offers lowdown on tanking up

After helping themselves to coffee and cookies, the two-dozen youngsters attending the Erie County sheriff's town hall meeting on underage drinking noisily gravitated past the adults Tuesday evening to the back rows of the lecture room in D'Youville College's Alt Hall.

They shushed after a visit from a deputy as the program -- one of hundreds being held across the country -- got under way.

To begin, the moderator, WIVB-TV news anchor Don Postles, introduced Undersheriff Richard Donovan, who noted that, "The younger you start drinking, the more problems you're going to have in life."

New Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson added, "One-third of all those in custody have alcohol involvement, and that just shows that use of alcohol has ultimately negative consequences."

Then Postles introduced a short video on the omnipresence of alcoholic beverages and advertising for them, binge drinking and underage drinking.

When the lights came back up, panel members spoke. William F. Wieczorek, director of Buffalo State College's Center for Health and Social Research, presented statistics on underage drinking.

Michele Graves, a leader in the University District Problem Properties Task Force, told how her group cracked down on drunken student parties.

Lucy Candelario, executive director of West Side Community Services, talked about personal responsibility.

Andrew Jarnot, a youth advocate for Erie County Stop DWI, who told how his life changed when he caused a fatal auto accident after drinking and taking drugs.

Jarnot's tale made the biggest impression on the youngsters.

They wanted to know about his six months in jail. They were astonished to learn that, after his conviction for criminally negligent homicide, he never can vote or get a passport or, while on probation, even go to Niagara Falls without permission from his probation officer.

The Rev. Bob Keebler of Youth With a Purpose, a group from Holy Cross Catholic Church on Buffalo's Lower West Side, brought the youngsters to the session.

"They want to be good kids," he said afterwards. "Give them the opportunity, and good things happen."

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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