Town meets to discuss underage drinking

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2006

Joe Tompkins acknowledged Thursday night, at a town hall meeting on underage drinking, that he drank for two years after a drunken driving accident in Auke Bay left him paralyzed below the waist as a teenager.

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As the future Paralympian watched television one morning after a hard night of drinking in 1990, his 2-year-old son approached him.

"He said, 'Daddy,' and I snapped at him," Tompkins said. "I said 'What?' and he goes, 'Nothing, I just want to say I love you.' And I saw a little tear in his eye, and something switched in my head."

Tompkins told the dozens of parents, teenagers and community leaders gathered in the Juneau-Douglas High School commons that he spent one final weekend partying.

"So it's been 16 years, no drugs, no alcohol, but that's the day I started living my life," he said.

The town hall meeting was sponsored by the local group Parents Unite and the national Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Prevention of Underage Drinking.

"I would be happy if one kid came away from this meeting tonight and decided to stop and think before they engage in dangerous behavior," said Parents Unite co-founder Amy Deininger. "If it saves one kid's life, it's worth it."

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, acted as emcee and began the event by reading some local and national statistics relating to underage drinking.

"In 2005, 62 percent of Juneau high school students surveyed admitted to having consumed more than a few sips of alcohol in their lifetime," he said. "Thirty-seven percent consumed more than a few sips of alcohol in the 30-day period before they were surveyed."

Deininger said underage drinking in Juneau is a real problem that parents should watch closely.

"In my opinion it's huge," she said. "It's pervasive and it affects all walks of life. It affects all socioeconomic classes. I rarely talk to another parent in this town, another teenager, that it hasn't somehow affected - either their lives or the lives of their close friends and family."

Juneau Police Department Officer Chris Burke asked the teenagers and adults attending the event to assist officials in curbing the underage drinking problem in town.

"The Juneau Police Department are firm believers in community-oriented policing," he said before the event.

"We don't know where all of the parties are, where all these things are taking place. It takes a collaborative effort with everyone in the community to resolve these problems."

Burke said the problem of underage drinking seems to have decreased in the last several years. He said the department issued more than 400 minor consuming citations in 2003, but the number has dropped about 100 each year since then.

"I'd like to think that that is a direct result of everyone working together and gaining compliance with kids drinking less and less," Burke said.

Tompkins told the crowd of a promising baseball career he could have had before his accident.

"I didn't have that taken away - I gave that away," he said. "How did I give that away? I went out and drank with my friends."

After a free ski lesson at Eaglecrest, Tompkins made a goal to be a top disabled athlete. After a few "bumps" in the road, he has skied in the Paralympics at Salt Lake City in 2002, and at Turin, Italy this year.

"It's not possible to reach your goals with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes," Tompkins said. "It's not possible, period."

Burke said he believes the key to resolving underage drinking is strong parental involvement.

"The more involved you are with your kids, the more involved the community is with their kids, the better off we will be," he said.

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