Deputies crack down on underage drinking during Steeplechase

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March 24, 2007

AIKEN, S.C.---The 41st annual Aiken Steeplechase drew a large crowd this afternoon...but it also drew a lot of underage drinkers.

In an effort to stop the problem, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office was out in full force writing tickets to anyone caught in the act.

The Aiken Steeplechase is known both for its horse racing and for its party-like atmosphere.

"Hanging out with good friends, having a few cold drinks and having a good time," said patron Clint Smith.

Clint wasn't the only one having a good time. On the sidelines, the common scene is crowds of people spending the afternoon with their drink of choice in hand.

But if you weren't 21, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office was on hand to put a lid on it.

"Pretty much the same thing that we've always done, just perhaps being a little more aggressive in regards to underage drinking," Lt. Larry Schrade said.

The underage drinkers felt their presence.

"This year they're everywhere, most undercover. That's how everybody's getting busted," one patron said.

"We're just not going to tolerate folks that either drink underage or fight. Those are the two main things, and most the time the drinking is what leads to the fighting, so if we can keep those things under control we'll have a lot better event," Lt. Schrade said.

One 18-year-old found out about the crackdown the hard way: "Yeah, I was holding a beer. I had it in a red cup, and he took it from me and smelled it and everything."

Now he like many others faces a fine of more than $250.

"Was it worth it?" we asked.

"No, I don't think so."

That is one message law enforcement hopes they made loud and clear this year.

At this year's Steeplechase, the sheriff's office says they wrote 26 tickets for underage drinking and made two arrests for disorderly conduct.

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