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Teens get a chance to start fresh

Alcohol misdemeanors would be dropped if program is completed

POSTED: May 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Fourteen teenagers arrested in March for underage drinking will get the chance to have the misdemeanor charges dismissed if they successfully complete a pretrial diversion program.

The teens, including several Flowery Branch High School athletes, were arrested on charges of underage consumption of alcohol during a March 30 sheriff’s raid on a house party in Buford. The owners of the Carters Lake Drive home, Mark and Susan Eldridge, face misdemeanor charges of keeping a disorderly house and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Hall County Solicitor-General Larry Baldwin said he’s reviewed the cases of the 14 teens and determined they are all eligible for the alternative sentencing program, which allows first-time offenders to have their charges dismissed if they complete a six-week "life skills program" that meets 90 minutes each week. The pretrial diversion also requires 20 hours of community service and completion of the "Prime 21" course that focuses on the dangers of teen drug and alcohol use.

The disposition is common for teens who face underage drinking charges and have no prior criminal arrests, Baldwin said. It is not offered for DUI or marijuana charges. About 140 youthful offenders go through pretrial diversion in Hall County each year, he said.

"We’ve got a problem in Hall County with underage drinking, but when it’s their first time I think it would be more effective to direct them through education and community service than pay a several hundred dollar fine," Baldwin said, noting that the teens have already spent a night in jail and are required to pay the costs of the programs.

"If they committed a crime and made a mistake but it’s their first time, I don’t believe it warrants them having a criminal conviction for the rest of their lives," he said.

Baldwin said the pretrial diversion program will not be offered to the adults who hosted the party.

"I do anticipate going forward with prosecution on those cases," Baldwin said.

All the defendants are scheduled to appear in state court next week, when they can choose to enter pretrial diversion or enter a plea.

Hall County sheriff’s deputies were responding to a complaint of loud music early on a Sunday morning when they found about 20 teenagers partying with numerous bottles of liquor and beer in the basement of the home, authorities said. The teens were taken to jail and given sobriety tests.

In addition to Flowery Branch High School football standout Jaybo Shaw and star pitcher Patrick Henry, who are both 18, the following people were charged:

Michael Cosby, 17, of Gainesville; Blake David Caviness, 18, of Buford; Timothy Matthew Pilgrim, 17, of Flowery Branch; Shane Wineberg, 17, of Flowery Branch; William Cameron Wilson, 18, of Flowery Branch; Benjamin Sigman, 17, of Flowery Branch; Kevin Chambers, 19, of Braselton; Stephen Marcus Jones, 19, of Flowery Branch; Michele Jones, 17, of Duluth; Jillian Victoria Eldridge, 18, of Buford; Clinton Shane Peacock, 17, of Buford, and Cody Sims, 17, of Flowery Branch.



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