News 12 was allowed to tag along during an undercover alcohol sting in Aiken County. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 23, 2012)
News 12 at First at Five / Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Underage drinking costs the State of South Carolina just over a billion dollars each year. Additionally, about 70 percent of South Carolina high schoolers have tried alcohol at least once.
But in Aiken County, law enforcement is trying to fight the problem.
News 12 came along on a special mission while a minor attempted to purchase beer and liquor as our cameras and officers waited outside. There were no tricks or lies -- just a 19-year-old with a valid ID trying to purchase alcohol at stores across the county.
First, a trip through the valley yielded numerous illegal purchases. The Atlas on Hwy 421 in Warrenville didn't check for ID and neither did the Warrenville Supermarket.
"You sold a Bud Light to the young man who just walked out with it. He's working for us," said Steve Deibel of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Alcohol Enforcement Team to an unsuspecting clerk who sold the can of beer just a few minutes prior.
"19 years old, and he's walked in four stores and purchased three. None of them have checked his ID," Deibel said.
Then, it was on to North Augusta where the minor bought a bottle of Smirnoff vodka from the ABC Package Store in the Food Lion Shopping Center.
"Your court date's going to be on the 19th of September 2012 at 8 o'clock at the police station here in North Augusta," said Cpl. Aaron Fittery with the North Augusta Department of Public Safety as he wrote a ticket to the seller of the vodka.
"When you have somebody that does sell to a minor, that affects more than just the sale and consumption of the alcohol," explained Fittery to News 12.
This mission was set up by the AET and North Augusta Department of Public Safety. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office also assisted.
Ultimately, the minor bought at five out of the 11 stores he went to on the mission. That's almost half.
"There were a lot of buys and that's unfortunately alarming," said Sgt. Selwyn Deloach with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.
"They'll go through a court process. Of course, they'll have the option to plead guilty or not guilty in that. If they do plead guilty, then they're looking at a fine," Fittery said.
"And then SLED, the State Law Enforcement Division, then issues the store an administrative citation," Deibel said.
Once a store is fined three or four times, the state can pull its license to sell.
"And they'll have administrative hearings where the stores are actually having to pay additional fines for the sale of those alcohol substances," Deloach said.
But the mission is also to teach.
"We do find a lot of clerks who are unaware of what the law is or they don't know all the elements of the law," Deloach said.
Violating sellers will have to take a special class, but these officers have one main tip.
"If they don't look like an old man, check their ID," Deibel said.
Curgins Corner owner Rachel Curry lives by that rule.
"Sir, it says you're not 21. You're not old enough to buy this," she said, rejecting the minor who tried to purchase a can of Bud Light from her store in Graniteville.
She makes her clerks do the same.
"There's not any excuse at all, because it just takes a second to look at the ID," Curry said.
Her store would be held responsible if a minor purchased alcohol and then killed another motorist driving drunk. So to keep that from happening, the AET will keep up the hard work using volunteers like the one on our mission.
Here is a list of each store that sold during the mission:
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