Underage Drinking Caught on Tape in Lubbock Club - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

5/24/06

Underage Drinking Caught on Tape in Lubbock Club

It is no secret underage drinking is a problem. A report from Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation says the social costs of underage drinking nationwide is over $53-billion each year.  But here in Lubbock, the problem is costing lives. 21-year-old Amber Menafee was killed back in February by a suspected drunk driver that was just 20-years-old.  It's for that reason that NewsChannel 11 decided to ask questions about where and how minors are getting their alcohol.  NewsChannel 11's Jennifer Vogel did an extensive investigation that found some answers.

20% of Lubbock's population is college age students, and in order to keep entertainment facilities open, numerous clubs and bars in town allow 18 and older to come in as long as they are marked as underage. But are they going into drinking establishments and really not drinking?  That's where our investigation begins.

Tonight, we take you inside a local bar scene to show you what's happening, and let you decide if a bar is a place for those under 21.

It looks like innocent fun, college kids having a good time out on the town. But it's only innocent fun until someone gets hurt.  That someone is 21-year-old Amber Menafee, killed February 11th by a driver who police say was drunk, twice the legal limit. The driver, Erin Nicole Reagan was just 20-years-old, not even old enough to buy to a beer. 

So how are these minor's getting alcohol?  That question takes us to local bars and clubs, where, in an undercover investigation, we try to find that answer. This hidden camera investigation revealed minors in a public bar, drinking in pure sight. But legally, that's not allowed. So how are they getting away with it?

As we saw in the video, fake I. D.'s are not the issue.  The doorman at the Wild West asks a customer to take off his hat.  When he does, he sees it is clearly not the same person as the picture on the driver's license.  The doorman then asks the patron to leave.

Bouncers are busting people with fake I. D.'s, and branding the underage people with an "M" for minor. They're not supposed to drink, but our investigation finds that's not what happens when they get inside. 

Straight from the front door to the bathroom, the scrubbing begins.   We caught girls washing their hands repeatedly, joking about trying to wash off the "M's."

About 11:30 the club starts to get crowded. People are wall-to-wall which is great cover for our underage drinkers.  In the video, we saw a group of girls gathers around their younger friend just long enough to get in a quick drink. 

Next, our cameraperson says, "The girl in the pink shirt has washed off the 'M's' on her hands." Our undercover camera could vaguely see what were washed off markings, now replaced by a friend's wristband and a drink.

We tried repeatedly to catch up with the owners and management of Wild West. We wanted to know, even though they are taking precautions to keep drinks out of the wrong hands, why it's still happening in their club. We asked how often people get kicked out for underage drinking, how security keeps track of people under 21, and how business would change if they only allowed 21 and older.

Although the owner of Wild West would not answer those questions, he did tell us, the people being let in are all adults, and if adults choose to break the law, they should expect to pay the consequences.

We took our hidden cameras to similar clubs that allow 18 and up, like Beer Garden, and Graham's Central Station.  But we did not find any underage drinkers in those places during our investigation. But, there are bars we spoke with like Melt and Blue Light that do not allow 18 year olds in because they do not want the liability. 

We want to stress again, the clubs and bars are not doing anything illegal here. They even take the extra step to mark underage people. But what's at issue here is the law that allows 18 year olds into drinking establishments.

The answers we found to where minors are getting alcohol, is basically, their 21 and older friends are buying it for them. The question now, is should we be mixing 18 year olds with a bar-age crowd?  The only way to change that would be to change the state law.

If you would like to see something done about this law, you can contact Senator Duncan's office at (512) 463-0128.

This is the first of many investigations into this problem.

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