Special Report: "The Deadly Consequences of Underage Drinking"

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - According to statistics from the Center on Addiction, more than 90% of people with a substance problem started smoking, drinking or using other drugs before turning 18. Some parents might think it's safer to have their children drink alcohol at home with friends. However, local law enforcement officials are reminding the public that doing this can have long term effects in more ways than one.

The sound of an ambulance's siren is one that most people hate to hear. That's because it means there's a problem, and all too often it involves drivers and alcohol. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, every two minutes a person is hurt in an accident that involves a drunk driver.

Pam Vance of Meridian knows first hand about the pain of losing a loved one to a drunk driver. In the early 1990's one of her husband's aunts was killed on a Sunday after church by one.

"She was getting the mail from the previous day," says Vance. "She literally was hit when the man came across the road, hit her, she flipped into the air and pages of her bible were just fluttering down. She still had the handle of the purse in her hand, and they have this imprinted on their minds forever."

Plus, almost ten years earlier another one of her husband's aunts was killed by a drunk driver.

"She had family," says Vance. "She had children and grandchildren. She still had brothers and sisters that were literally robbed of the rest of her life."

Emergency responders say the fact that innocent people are often the victims of drunk drivers' is what's so disturbing.

"I've been on several cases where innocent children have been hit by drunk drivers and killed," says Lauderdale County coroner, Clayton Cobler. "That's the thing about it. It's very selfish. It's not just the one person that's drinking that it affects; it's really the entire community."

Sergeant Andy West with the Mississippi Highway Patrol office in Meridian agrees.

"Last year we lost 12 individuals under the age of 21 in Troop H on state highways alone," says West. "The year before that we also lost 12. Now, all of those can't be necessarily contributed to drinking and driving, but regardless of whether you're talking about a distracted driver or an impaired driver, it's all going to come back to a decision that was made before hand."

In the past Lauderdale County Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun says there was a problem with alcohol being served to minors at house and "pasture parties" locally.

"The law in my opinion has been very effective. We do not see nearly the numbers that we saw before it was enacted."

Calhoun is referring to a Social Hosting Law that took effect in Mississippi in 2011. It holds adults responsible for providing alcohol to minors on their property.

"They can do that for their child. However, they cannot do that for other people's children. If they want to keep their child at home, and they want to consume alcohol it's perfectly legal under both the Lauderdale County ordinance for consumption as well as state law. What they can't do is have other children there doing those types of activities."

Three years ago a doctor and his wife in Madison County were charged with 20 counts for hosting a party at their house where teens were offered alcohol. The penalty for violating Social Hosting laws in both Mississippi and Alabama are up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Here's what's being done locally to address the problem. The East Mississippi Crimestoppers Line is possibly the first in the state to implement this new effort. It's called P3 Campus. It's basically an app that students can download and anonymously report parties where there is underage drinking; this includes pasture parties, house parties or whatever the case might be.

Ultimately, law enforcement officials and loved ones of victims, like Pam Vance, say addressing this problem could save a life, and it could be yours!

"As everyone is celebrating these milestones for these teenagers and for these graduating seniors, we try to remember, don't make this milestone into a cemetery headstone."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, each day 29 people in the U.S. die in an alcohol related car crash. In 2016 that averaged out to one person dying every 50 minutes. Although drunk driving fatalities have dropped by 1/3 over the past three decades, these crashes still claim more than 10,000 lives each year.