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Authorities in Baraboo, Portage address underage drinking risks near end of school year

May 7, 2019

With prom season in full swing and high school graduation ceremonies approaching, authorities in Sauk and Columbia counties hope parents, students and others consider alternatives to underage drinking parties, citing legal and health risks.

“We try to keep that safe for the kids,” Sauk County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Spencer said. “A lot of bad things happen when alcohol is involved.”

Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke said teenagers about to graduate high school have their entire future ahead of them, and he doesn’t want to see any traffic fatalities as a result of drunken driving — either by minors or adults.

“The worst thing you’d want is to start off on the wrong foot as you’re getting ready to graduate,” he said.

One drunken driving incident involving teens took place in Sauk County over the weekend. Baraboo and Portage high schools each held their proms Saturday night.

In a press release Monday, Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister said deputies early Sunday arrested Destiny Woods, 18, of Baraboo after they believe she drove a car while under the influence of alcohol with a 15-year-old passenger.

Meister said at 1:29 a.m. Sunday, a deputy stopped a Chrysler Sebring in the village of West Baraboo. The deputy observed the vehicle driving without headlights on.

Woods submitted to a field sobriety test and showed signs of impairment and was charged with drunken driving with a passenger under the age of 16, Meister said. The juvenile was released to a responsible adult.

It is illegal in Wisconsin for anyone under 21 to drive with any alcohol in their blood. A first-offense drunken driving citation in Wisconsin usually is treated as a traffic offense for those 21 and over who are legally allowed to consume alcohol. However, driving while impaired with a minor under 16 can be a criminal offense with more significant penalties.

Klafke said he was not aware of any drunken driving arrests related to the Portage High School prom over the weekend, and said police were aware of one house party that included underage drinking.

The Sauk County Sheriff’s Office investigates any reports of underage drinking parties, Spencer said. Deputies generally issue citations to adults who provide alcohol and minors who drink, but not other teens who are designated drivers and choose not to partake at such parties.

Portage Police Patrol Lt. Rich Hoege said he hopes kids make healthy and safe decisions on big nights.

The worst thing to do if a party gets busted is to run from the police, he said, because it could pose a safety issue for everyone involved. Community awareness makes all the difference, and both Hoege and Klafke said local schools and parents have cooperatively worked to provide safe alternatives for high school students to have fun.

Portage High School has begun hosting a post-prom event, which Klafke said is well-attended.

“Some of the things that the schools have instilled have worked,” Klafke said. “People are making good decisions.”

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