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KENT COUNTY, MARYLAND


Board of License Commissioners

March 9, 2004

The Honorable Board of License Commissioners met today with the following present: Roy W. Crow, Scott D. Livie, and William W. Pickrum, presiding.

Mauritz Stetson, Alcoholic Beverage Inspector, and Susanne Hayman, County Attorney, were also in attendance.


SPECIAL LICENSE

The Commissioners approved a one day only Class C, Beer License for the following: the Betterton-Still Pond Lions Club for their fund-raising event to take place at the Betterton Fire Hall on March 13th; and the Rock Hall Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., for their "Annual Installation of Officers/Appreciation Night" to take place at the Rock Hall Fire Hall on March 13th.


VIOLATION
SUDS-N-SODA

An Administrative Hearing was held at 6:15 p.m. in the Commissioners' Hearing Room. Alpaben R. Patel, President, Neel Inc., licensee, Basil Wadkovsky, Esq., representing Mrs. Patel, and the following summoned witnesses were in attendance: Deputy Tyrell White of the Kent County Sheriff's Office, and the six juveniles involved were in attendance.

Mr. Stetson, Mrs. Patel, Jeremy Yerkie, Elisabeth Lepter, and Deputy White were sworn in by Ms. Hayman for giving testimony.

After some discussion about whether or not to receive the testimony of each juvenile, it was agreed by Mr. Wadkovsky, Ms. Hayman, and the Commissioners to hear testimony only from Jeremy Yerkie and Elisabeth Lepter, thereby avoiding potential repetitive testimony.

All of the witnesses were asked to temporarily excuse themselves from the Hearing Room. In response to Ms. Hayman's request, Mr. Stetson reviewed the events of January 24, 2004, and identified six young people, all under the age of 21 years:

- He indicated that on January 26, 2004, he received a call from Deputy Steven Linz, Kent County Sheriff's Office, and was then informed that on January 24, 2004, Deputy Linz investigated a complaint of juveniles in possession of alcoholic beverages. Deputy Linz stopped a vehicle that had six teenagers ranging in ages of 15 to 17 years old, and containers of beer and liquor.

In the Deputy's report, which Mr. Stetson reviewed, it is stated that Jeremy Yerkie admitted purchasing the alcoholic beverages at Suds-in-Soda. Deputy Linz advised Mr. Stetson that all the minors involved were cooperative when answering his questions.

- Later in the day (on January 26th), Mr. Stetson spoke with Melissa Porter of Juvenile Services regarding the citation issued for the juveniles and received Ms. Porter's assistance, encouraging the juveniles to testify at the Board of License Commissioners' administrative hearing.

- Also on January 26th, Mr. Stetson spoke with Sheriff Price about conducting some controlled purchases of alcoholic beverages in the very near future, and therefore would contact the Maryland State Police for their assistance.

- Mr. Stetson noted that he went to the Kent County High School and interviewed each of the six juveniles individually. Each juvenile stated in the interview that Jeremy Yerkie, one of the group of six, went into Suds-in-Soda with a sum of money, contributed to by each, and returned to the vehicle (in which all of the juveniles were traveling ) with beer and distilled spirits. Mr. Yerkie reported to Mr. Stetson that he was not asked for his ID by any employee at Suds-n-Soda.

Jeremy Yerkie, during questioning by Ms. Hayman and Mr. Wadkovsky, testified that he and five of his friends intended to purchase alcoholic beverages on January 24th in order to "get drunk" and pooled their money with which Mr. Yerkie purchased a fifth of rum and a 12-pack of beer at Suds-n-Soda. He provided a description of the store's location, and reported that he had purchased alcoholic beverages from that establishment at other previous times.

During his purchase on January 24th, he indicated that there were no other customers in the store at the time and that he was not asked to present an ID. Following his purchase, he rejoined the other 5 juveniles waiting in the car and drove to the house of one of the juveniles, where they had dinner, and returned to Chestertown where they "hung out". They then traveled to the area of the Buckingham Road Public Landing where some began to drink the alcoholic beverages (others having had already begun to drink en route).

Questions were posed by Mr. Wadkovsky as to the time sequence of the actual consumption of the purchased alcoholic beverages to which Mr. Yerkie stated that by the time Deputy Linz pulled his vehicle over (after the juveniles had departed the Buckingham Road area), he and his group had been drinking approximately 4 to 5 hours.

Mr. Yerkie reported that Deputy Linz informed the juveniles that he detected the smell of alcohol in the car and emanating from some of the juveniles, and therefore, would search the vehicle. The deputy proceeded with a search, finding the remnants of the bottle of rum and the 12-pack of beer, and a 750 ml bottle of Lord Calvert Liquor which, as Mr. Yerkie explained, belonged to his 21-year old brother.

To further questions posed by Mr. Wadkovsky, Jeremy Yerkie described the attending Suds-in-Soda clerk as follows: a male, between 21 and 30 years of age, approximately 6 feet tall, medium build, at approximately180 pounds.

In response to Commissioner Livie's question, Mr. Yerkie indicated that he chose to purchase the alcoholic beverages at Suds-in-Soda because "a lot of kids buy from there".

Deputy White testified next, stating that he received a dispatch from Kent Central at approximately 9:34 p.m. advising of a complaint that there were two vehicles on Buckingham Road, one of which was a Chevrolet Blazer carrying juveniles in possession of alcohol. He responded to the dispatch, and recognized Deputy Linz approaching the Chevy Blazer ahead of him. His report indicated that he detected the smell of alcohol in the Blazer and on the person of some of the juveniles, and, along with Deputy Linz, located the alcoholic beverages in the vehicle, seized, photographed and then disposed of them The said photograph was submitted by Deputy White as an exhibit.

Responding to Ms. Hayman and Mr. Wadkovsky's questions, Deputy White reported that the juveniles stated the following: they purchased the alcoholic beverages approximately 3 to 4 hours before the vehicle was pulled over and searched; they purchased said beverages at Suds-in-Soda. Deputy White reported that the juveniles displayed no apparent sign of intoxication.

To the Commissioners' questions, the Deputy reported that the children cooperated throughout the search, seizure, and interrogation, and that no sobriety tests were conducted.

Elisabeth Ann Lepter was the next person to testify, and indicated that she was involved in said incident on January 24th and was among the group of six juveniles that consumed alcoholic beverages purchased at Suds-in-Soda at approximately 9:00 p.m.

To further questions posed by Mr. Wadkovsky and Ms. Hayman, Elisabeth Lepter stated that she was not certain what time it was when the police stopped the vehicle in which she was traveling with the other 5 juveniles. She reported that she had consumed very little alcohol during said evening.

Commissioner Livie inquired whether or not the other licensee of Suds-in-Soda, Robert A. Girmscheid, Jr., was present in the Hearing Room or any of the employees of Suds-in-Soda, to which Mr. Wadkovsky indicated that none of the above were present.

Mrs. Patel was the next person to testify, identifying herself as the owner of Suds-in-Soda. To questions posed by Mr. Wadkovsky, Mrs. Patel indicated that there is a total of five people currently employed at Suds-in-Soda, three of which are members of her family, and all of whom have been certified to sell alcoholic beverages, all having taken the alcohol awareness class. She further stated that it has been the policy of her store, under her ownership for the past five years, that employees must ask for the ID of every customer who appears to be under the age of 21 years before the purchase of alcoholic beverages is permitted.

She responded to further questioning by reporting that she received the first notice of said incident on February 18th in a letter from Mr. Stetson and that there was no indication given in the letter of the date of the alleged purchase by Jeremy Yerkie. She stated that, until this hearing, she was not aware of the date of the alleged incident. Her counsel added that, given the lapse of time, the ability to locate and check the register tape that recorded the purchase would be difficult.

Mrs. Patel continued to respond to questioning by indicating that she had never seen Jeremy Yerkie before this hearing. The family members employed at her store are her husband, Raj, and her brother. She testified that there are always two employees designated to utilize the cash register at all times during business hours, covering morning and evening shifts during the week, and slightly different shifts on Saturdays and Sundays.

To Commissioner Livie's question, Mrs. Patel responded that it would not be possible for a minor to purchase alcohol at her store because she and her employees check the ID of every customer that appears to be younger than 21 years of age. Mr. Wadkovsky advised that there may well have been occasions when individuals have presented fake ID's to Mrs. Patel or her employees. Commissioner Crow responded by stating that students of Mr. Stetson's alcohol awareness classes are trained to be able to recognize fake ID's.

Mr. Wadkovsky advised that any attempt made by his client to identity the employee who allegedly sold the alcohol to the juveniles would be only allegation; he stated that the testimonies have not pinned down the time of the alleged incident, and therefore, it would not be possible to identify the record of the alleged purchase on register tape.

Commenting on the above, Commissioner Pickrum stated that when such an allegation has been made (i.e. the sale of alcoholic beverages to a minor), the reasonable response of the notified licensee would be to immediately make every effort to find out which employees were working on that shift and then to question them about the same.

Commissioner Livie stated that there was no reason to doubt Jeremy Yerkie's testimony.

Ms. Hayman informed the Commissioners that they have two weeks for making a finding.

Commissioner Pickrum requested a recess, without need of Counsel, in order for the Board to deliberate. The Board asked that the witnesses be directed to return to the Hearing Room.

Mr. Wadkovsky summarized his client's case by expressing his opinion that Mrs. Patel did not receive proper notice of the alleged incident from Mr. Stetson, and that the notice that was received was lacking pertinent information. The notice from Mr. Stetson was received by Mrs. Patel three weeks after the alleged incident. He further stated that the allegation made was based solely on one boy's testimony; there are no identifiable witnesses to the alleged purchase, and, therefore, there has been no clear and convincing evidence presented. Also, he stated that the time sequences as presented by the juveniles do not correspond to each other nor with the time sequence as reported by the Deputy.

To Mr. Wadkovsky's summary, Commissioner Pickrum underscored the fact that an administrative hearing must address "what is reasonable." Commissioner Pickrum then initiated the "Finding Fact" phase of the hearing by stating the following findings of the Board: the charges as presented were credible; Jeremy Yerkie was a credible witness; alcoholic beverages were sold to Mr. Yerkie at Suds-in-Soda; no employee of Suds-in-Soda requested to check Mr. Yerkie's ID.

Commissioner Pickrum then initiated the disposition phase of the hearing by underscoring the seriousness with which the Board views the sale of alcoholic beverages to minors and by stating that the latter represents a serious problem facing Kent County.

He then stated the decision of the Board to fine Suds-n-Soda $500.00 and to suspend its license to sell alcoholic beverages for 15 days, effective March 10, 2004.

Commissioner Livie stated that it is the hope of the Board that its decision will send a clear message, not only to Mrs. Patel, but to all the licensees of establishments in the County that sell alcoholic beverages. He insisted that Mrs. Patel and other licensees "tighten up their internal policies." He urged everyone in the Hearing Room to recognize that the sale of alcoholic beverages to a minor and the consumption of same by the six juveniles, might have resulted in a public gathering at funerals instead of at an administrative hearing.

There being no further statements or questions, a motion was made by Commissioner Crow, seconded by Commissioner Livie, and made unanimous by Commissioner Pickrum to adjourn the hearing.

The hearing was taped for reference and adjourned at 7:30 p.m.


VIOLATION
SUPER SODA CENTER, SUPER SODA CENTER II, SUDS-IN-SODA

The Alcoholic Beverage Inspector notified the Commissioners that a violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Article 2B, Section 12-108, of the Annotated Code of Maryland, service to a person under the age of twenty-one, took place on February 20, 2004 between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. at Super Soda Center, Super Soda Center II, and Suds-in-Soda all in Chestertown.

Mr. Stetson reported that he received an incident report dated February 22, 2004, submitted by Sgt. Virginia Prince of the Maryland State Police, Centreville Barrack, in which Sgt. Prince indicated that she and a MD State Police Cadet, Thomas Thelm (20 years old), visited six licensed establishments in the County on February 20, 2004.

In her report, Sgt. Prince indicated that the establishments listed above sold an alcoholic beverage to Cadet Thelm. In Mr. Stetson's opinion, Sgt. Prince's incident report appears to contain sufficient information to indicate probable cause that there was a violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Laws by the establishments cited, and that there appears to be sufficient information to hold a hearing.

An Administrative Hearing has been scheduled for March 23rd


There being no further business to claim their attention, the Board adjourned to meet again on Tuesday, March 16, 2004.


THE BOARD OF LICENSE COMMISSIONERS
OF KENT COUNTY, MARYLAND


Janice F. Fletcher
Executive Assistant


Approved: William W. Pickrum, President

 

 

Please contact Ileana Lindstrom or Janice Fletcher at (410) 778-7435 or by e-mail with any questions or comments.

 

 




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