Alcohol-free parties, cab rides offered to stop New Year's Eve drunken driving

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Local churches and support groups have scheduled alcohol-free New Year's Eve events for young people and for those who want to steer clear of alcoholic beverages on the last night of the year.

In addition, Columbia Cab will continue to offer free rides from bars and restaurants to people who believe they are in no condition to drive home, in a program sponsored by local police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Meanwhile, Howard County police have have added extra patrols for tomorrow night, in an effort to stem drunken driving and accidents. On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day last year, police made 15 drunken driving arrests.

"If you are going to drink, don't drive. Call a cab," said Sgt. Steve Keller, a county police spokesman. "Make arrangements with hosts; stay wherever you are."

In an event expected to draw about 100 teen-agers, Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Marriotts ville has rented a bowling alley on Rolling Road in Catonsville for the third New Year's Eve in a row.

The 9:30 p.m.-to-1 a.m. party is the brainchild of Mike Rallo, the church's youth pastor. The Mount Hebron High School alumnus wanted an alternative to the kind of celebrations he participated in when he was a teen-ager, which included alcohol.

"This gives them something positive to do so they won't have to go out and drink and be at risk," said Mr. Rallo, 35. "It would offer some type of alternative to kids who wouldn't have a party to go to."

The event, which costs $10 a person, will include a van ride to the bowling alley from church members, a DJ and bowling, under the supervision of 15 adult volunteers who vow to have the youngsters home by 2 a.m. on New Year's Day.

Richard L. Stum, founder of the Navigators Columbia High School Ministry, plans to take about a dozen youths to the bowling alley. "It's just a good, clean way to bring in the new year -- and safe," he said.

At the Armory in Ellicott City, meanwhile, a Columbia-based support group is sponsoring a $25-a-person nonalcoholic New Year's Eve party intended for alcoholics and others who need to avoid settings where alcohol is served.

New Year's Eve can be very stressful for such people said a recovering alcoholic named Susan. She manages the Serenity Center in Columbia, which helps people in 12-step programs.

"What I find . . . most difficult is to be around normal drinkers," said Susan, who declined to give her last name. She said the group's party drew 300 people last year.

And in Long Reach, the Alano Club, a private club that holds daily Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, will have round-the-clock AA meetings on New Year's Eve to help alcoholics deal with the pressures of an evening associated with alcohol.

At parties where alcohol is served, hosts bear some responsibility for how much they serve -- and to whom. Sergeant Keller warned that the host can be charged for serving alcohol to minors. They also could be charged if a drunken guest ends up in a fatal accident.

Columbia Cab's free ride program, called "Cabs or Cops," began Dec. 15 and will end New Year's Day. It was advertised in more than 200 establishments that serve alcohol.

Last year, that program provided rides to 30 people on New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve. But it doesn't always work, said Bonnie Cook, president of the county chapter of MADD. Sometimes, she said, "when the patron calls, they are too inebriated to remember they called and are not there" when the cab arrives.

Even so, Ms. Cook said, such programs are part of what she sees as an effective public awareness campaign against drunken driving in recent years.

In December of 1991, 1992 and 1993, she noted, no one in the county was killed in a drunken driving accident. Police are waiting for an autopsy to determine whether a fatal accident on ** Route 32, which killed a teen-ager earlier this month, was alcohol-related.

This year, four people have been killed in alcohol-related accidents, police said.

"I think Howard County is doing a tremendous job with all its programs," said Ms. Cook. "Whatever we're doing is working. But that doesn't mean we let up."

Among the tips from public safety officials to those holding New Year's Eve events where alcohol will be served:

* Offer nonalcoholic beverages for those who don't want to drink.

* Offer plenty of food.

* Tell guests that their car keys will be take away if they are drunk.

* Stop serving alcohol an hour before the party ends.

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