The Carroll County Liquor Board decided in private yesterday how it will handle two cases involving sales of alcohol to minors.
On the advice of County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr., board members agreed to determine, in a closed session, the punishment for the two establishments where the sales occurred. Previously, the board's deliberations on liquor violations have been conducted in public.
The board made its decisions on the two cases during the closed session but will not make those decisions public until the violators have been notified, officials said.
The owners of both establishments involved admitted the violations.
Board members said later that they are considering continuing the earlier practice of public deliberations.
In the first case yesterday, board members were told about a 40-ounce bottle of St. Des malt liquor that a 15-year-old Manchester youth bought from Number One North about 8:40 p.m. Oct. 16.
The teen-ager, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile, said he and a 16-year-old friend had tried to get a 21-year-old to purchase alcohol for them but that everyone they approached refused.
"I asked [Rajendra Patel, an owner of Number One] if he would sell it to me, and he said no," testified the youth, adding that Mr. Patel went to the back of the store to unload cases of soda. "So, I stood around for a couple of minutes and asked [employee Songklod "Quan" Khampraphai], and he said yes."
After the youth paid for the bottle and left the convenience store, he was spotted by Manchester police Officer Joseph Lettau, who knew the youth wasn't of age. The police report states that Officer Lettau arrested the teen and released him to his parents later that evening.
"There were too many people in the store," said Nilesh "Neil" Desai, another owner of the Manchester convenience store. "[Mr. Patel] was needed at the back to help a customer find a bottle of wine, and the boy took advantage of Quan because he was up front."
Mr. Khampraphai, a native of Thailand, does not speak English and is not technically an employee of the store, Mr. Desai argued. He is in the United States on an educational visa, cannot legally be employed and "helps out" in exchange for room and board at the owner's apartment, Mr. Desai said.
"He is an employee," replied board member John P. Buchheister Jr. "He gets renumeration for his work. He gets to stay at your house. Sounds like, to me, that Quan should have been unloading the sodas."
Liquor Board Administrator J. Ronald Lau said his office has received more complaints about Number One than about "any other establishment in Carroll County." Officer Lettau said the Police Department receives complaints about sales to minors every weekend.
Mr. Khampraphai was charged with selling alcohol to a minor, Mr. Lau said. The administrator said the youth also was charged and went through the juvenile justice system.
Evidence in the second case came from a state police sting operation after an anonymous caller said the Crossroads Inn in Keymar was selling alcohol to minors. Eric William Helm, a member of the state police's Explorer Scout post, was sent to the bar to purchase a beer at 6:34 p.m. Oct. 15.
When waitress Joyce Blalack asked him for identification, Eric gave her his driver's license, which shows that he is 18 years old. Records show Ms. Blalack served him the drink and accepted payment for it.
"Joyce is always quite careful about this kind of thing," said Crossroads owner John Randall Shorb. "She's very high-strung and has always been afraid that this kind of thing would happen. It's probably one of her worst fears."
The bar was crowded that night, the room was dark, and Ms. Blalack misread Eric's birth date on the license, Mr. Shorb said. Also, he said, Eric seemed self-confident when he presented the license, not reluctant, as most underage youths who try to buy a drink are.
Mr. Shorb agreed with Mr. Thompson, the county attorney, that Eric looks younger than 21 but said his 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound frame might make the owner think he was of age.
Mr. Thompson said that regardless of the confusion, Ms. Blalack shouldn't have served Eric because his license photo is a profile shot, indicating that he might be a minor.