Curbing underage drinking takes more than changing city code, offiicals say

Thomas Garcia

The parent of a drowned 12-year-old boy, a local attorney and a police chief all agree more needs to be done than just change Tucumcari’s Municipal Code to have an effect on underage drinking in Tucumcari.

Attorney Donald Schutte presented “Augie’s Law” to the Tucumcari City Commission last Thursday. The proposed law suggests tightening up the current municipal code for underage drinking.

“The change will make it illegal for a minor to consume any alcohol, not just to the point of intoxication,” Schutte said Tuesday. “Making this an offense will led to citations, possible arrest penalties. This will let the child see first-hand that there are consequences to their actions.”

The change would have to make the offense one that a judge could immediately issue a sentence for, said Tucumcari Police Chief Roger Hatcher.

“If there is an immediate consequence for their action, the juvenile might realize that they do not want to commit this crime,” Hatcher said. “Bottom line, make the consequences of underage drinking so bad that they do not want to do it.”

Currently, if a juvenile is caught drinking or is found drunk they are sent through the Juvenile Probation Office which is run by the state’s Children’s Youth and Families Department, Hatcher said.

“With CYFD in control…we do all the paper work but essentially nothing happens to the kid,” Hatcher said. “CYFD will not allow the arrest of a juvenile unless there are extreme circumstances to warrant it. The key would be to place the JPO (Juvenile Probation Office) back into the hands of the district court.”

Presently, even if a juvenile is extremely intoxicated and his parents are out of town and no other legal guardian could be found, the juvenile could not be placed into protective custody, Hatcher said.

“The officers basically have to babysit the kid,” Hatcher said. “Or they can call JPO and they can babysit the kid until his parents come home.”
Schutte’s proposed change in the law was sparked by the death of Augustine “Augie” Montiel, 12, who drowned in an irrigation canal in 2006. Autopsy reports indicated Augie’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

“I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,” said Stella Chavez, Montiel’s mother. “We need to do all that we can to ensure that no other children have to die and no parent looses their child because of alcohol.”

Schutte said there was some indication the two teenage boys who were with Augie had been drinking for several years.

“Currently, there is a law in (the New Mexico Legislature)…aimed towards juvenile drinking,” Schutte said. “Be it at the state or local level these laws are being made and trying to be passed to protect our children.”

Schutte said the law will help refer a child and his or her family to the proper parties that can offer education and counseling.
“It is not our intention to persecute the youth of Tucumcari,” Schutte said.

“I do believe that if there had been this type of law in place five years ago then my son might not have died,” Chavez said.

Chavez’s son had been drinking a liter of Vodka with two of his friends prior to his death, Schutte said.

“Maybe if the law had been in place, then those boys could have gotten some help,” Chavez said. “If those boys had been to counseling, they might not have been drinking on the day my son died.”