Underage Drinking: More Trouble Than You Might Expect

Underage Alcohol Consumption May Have Resulted in Teen’s Death

Earlier this summer, a young man lost his life on Wake County roads. Gregory Taylor, aged 18, died on June 28 after his car ran off the road and struck a tree. Investigators estimated that Taylor’s vehicle was traveling at a speed of 89mph when it left the road, and was traveling at 63 mph when it struck the tree. Taylor has been a guest in a Five Points home earlier in the evening for a “wedding-related” party. It has been determined that Taylor consumed alcohol at the household prior to operating his vehicle the night of the fatal crash, but there is no word from police as to what degree alcohol consumption might have played in the collision that ended Taylor’s life. What is clear, however, is that at age eighteen, Taylor was too young to legally consume alcoholic beverages.

Charles Matthews, his wife Kimberley Matthews, and their 18-year old son Thomas Matthews all turned themselves in to authorities at the Wake County Detention Center on Hammond Road earlier this month as a result of Taylor’s death in June. Charles and Kimberley Matthews were charged with four counts each of misdemeanor aiding and abetting underage drinking. In addition to their son and Gregory Taylor, the couple is accused of allowing two other teens to drink at their home on June 28, 2014. Thomas Matthews was charged with one count of illegally purchasing liquor as a minor and with three counts of giving liquor to minors. Because Thomas Matthews purchased the liquor from an ABC store in Cameron Village, the clerk on duty who sold him the whiskey has been charged with selling spirituous liquors to someone under the age of 21. All three members of the Matthews family have been released on $50,000 bond, and they are scheduled to appear in court in September.

Well-meaning parents may think that they are doing a good thing by having their teens drink in a controlled environment with adult supervision instead of at a gathering surrounded only by peers. It may even be the case that it IS a better idea from a mental health and addiction point of view. Studies tend to show that people from cultures where moderate, controlled drinking is allowed for minors tend to have lower rates of alcoholism in adults than the United States. Perhaps by exposing young people to alcohol and educating them as to its adverse effects early makes them less likely to abuse the substance later in life. However, the fact remains that “culture” is not a defense to a charge of aiding and abetting underage drinking. Minors are allowed to consume very small amounts of alcohol as part of religious rites, such as taking wine with Catholic communion, or as part of an educational experience, such as part of preparing a dish in culinary school, but North Carolina strictly prohibits parents from allowing their children to consume alcohol even within the privacy of their own home.

Because alcohol is legal to consume by those who are at least 21 years old, it often seems as though we forget how dangerous it can be to our health and safety. So many offenses that we see involve alcohol as a factor: driving while impaired (DWI), underage consumption, open container, and intoxicated & disruptive, to name a few. Unbridled use of alcohol can lead to negative consequences such as interaction with the criminal justice system, and a number of our clients do not seek help for alcohol addiction until a run in with the law forces them to reassess their life choices. Furthermore, although excessive consumption of alcohol can be a health hazard at any age, it can be especially damaging to young people. Research increasingly demonstrates that our brains continue to develop until our mid-twenties, with a large jump in development occurring in our teenage years. Heavy drinking during this crucial period can result in lifelong damage to an individual’s neural pathways.

The tragic loss of this young man’s life illustrates why alcohol is not a substance to be taken lightly. I’m not advocating for a return to Prohibition, but I do think that we could do a better job of making people aware of how to responsibly consume alcohol, as well as the long-term consequences of non-responsible drinking. Regardless of how the charges against the Matthews family are resolved, it won’t bring back Gregory Taylor. Focusing on preventative education for parents and teens alike may help prevent misfortunes like Taylor’s from occurring in the first place, so that we don’t have to worry about the criminal consequences for offenders afterwards.