Tougher laws proposed for underage drinking

Chelle Delaney

The tragic drowning of a 12-year-old has Tucumcari taking a hard look at underage drinking laws.

A local attorney presented a proposal to the Tucumcari City Commission Thursday aimed at preventing tragedies like the drowning death of 12-year-old Augustine “Augie” Montiel in 2006.

Alcohol contributed to the boy’s death, according to his mother.

Donald Schutte, former Tenth Judicial District Judge, told commissioners it isn’t illegal for minors to consume alcohol, only to possess or try to buy it.

Schutte proposed changing city ordinances to cover minors who have consumed alcohol.

“My shorthand version of this change is ‘Augie’s Law,’” Schutte said. “There is a loophole in our existing ordinance that needs to be changed.”

Schutte said if a police officer finds a minor who has been drinking but is not in possession or not caught in the act of buying the alcohol, the minor cannot be arrested or charged.

“The change will help to avoid and prevent tragedy, the same type of tragedy that led to the death of Montiel two days after his 12th birthday,” Schutte said.

Some16 members of Montiel’s family attended the meeting, including his mother Stella Chavez.

Chavez said the proposal “is a great thing and it needs to pass. They called my son’s death an accidental drowning. I know he would have died from alcohol poisoning because he had twice the blood alcohol level. Every type of prevention needs to be made, it is time that they do something about this problem.”

Schutte said that he spoke with Tucumcari Police Department Officer Jason Braziel, who is stationed at Tucumcari High School, about the teenage drinking problem.

“Officer Braziel told me that since he has been stationed at the high school, he has had to send home several students ages 14-17 years old for drinking,” Schutte said.

“Teenage drinking is a big problem in our community,” Chavez said. “They should adopt the policy change. These are our children and they need to be protected.”

Tucumcari Mayor Antonio Apodaca told Mike Cherry, acting city manager, to present the proposal to the city attorney for review.

Commissioner Jim Lafferty expressed the need to have this proposal reviewed by the attorney as soon as possible and placed on the next agenda on Feb. 26.

Lafferty also said that after the city attorney reviews the change, a task force needs to be assigned to research and fine tune the proposed change.

“The task force should be made up of local law enforcement and youth agencies,” Lafferty said. “The task force can ensure that the change made to the ordinance will be one that is truly effective.”

Schutte said that he had spoken with many of the local agencies and they expressed interest in participating in the task force.

“If they develop a task force, I would like to be a part of it,” said Roger Hatcher, Tucumcari Police Chief.