Woman jailed for buying boy booze
The mother of a Coalville boy who died in March after he drank too much whiskey feels the woman who provided alcohol to her son escaped with a slap on the wrist, a victim advocate in Summit County said.
"I think there are a lot more deaths nationwide because of that than we realize," Summit County Victim Advocate Marsha Probst said. "It’s a big issue."
Friday Salt Lake County resident Rita E. Palmer, 23, was ordered to spend 17 days in jail for providing 17-year-old Joe Hunter the liquor that led to his death.
"[Hunter’s] mom has been very disappointed and she is appealing some of those verdicts," Probst said in a telephone interview Monday. "She wanted negligent-homicide charges brought against the perpetrators who purchased the alcohol for the minors."
After ingesting too much whiskey, Hunter died March 17 around 12:30 a.m. Investigators said the boy died of alcohol poisoning around the time a deputy found him unresponsive inside a vehicle with four other people near a trailer park in Coalville.
Palmer, who began serving time in the Summit County Jail Friday, sobbed as she was sentenced.
"By the time [the judge] asked her if she wanted to say anything, she was crying pretty hard," Summit County Attorney David Brickey said. "She leaned into her attorney and said something. He then stood up and said Ms. Palmer could not at this time say anything."
Because Palmer bought the whiskey for a different teenager, "it was too tenuous of a connection between [Palmer’s] acts and, unfortunately, [Hunter’s] decision to drink voluntarily," Brickey said, adding that three prosecutors reviewed the case before charges were filed.
"Given the statutes and the way they’re written in the state of Utah, [Brickey] charged her with the maximum he knew that we could get," Probst said. "I don’t think [the mother] will ever feel like she got justice."
Palmer pleaded guilty to one count of supplying alcoholic beverages to a minor, which is a class A misdemeanor. In exchange for her plea, Brickey agreed to drop a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"Under the circumstances, it was a fit punishment," said Tyler Ayres, an attorney who represented Palmer in court.
Being convicted of a class A misdemeanor could have resulted in Palmer spending up to a year in jail, he explained.
"She’s devastated. It’s had a significant impact on her life because she lives with this every day and she recognizes the fact that had she not provided the alcohol, [Hunter] might still be alive," Ayres said. "I would hope that everybody else would recognize the impact of their illegal decisions. Sometimes they result in tragedy."
The other adult charged in the case, 20-year-old Abram R. Kenter, of Coalville, pleaded guilty to several misdemeanors for contributing to the delinquency of minors and underage consumption of alcohol. Kenter, who was drinking with the teens the night Hunter died, was ordered to spend 10 days in jail.
"It’s important that the community recognize that as abundantly available as alcohol is in parts of the county, it still has to be handled appropriately and adults have to be adults," Brickey said. "If you’re an adult and you provide minors with alcohol there are consequences."
Brickey didn’t release the names of three juveniles charged in the case who each spent between two and seven days in detention. 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Mark May presided over the sentencing of all suspects in the case.
"I’m glad they found them and I’m glad people out there are aware that they are going to be found and they are going to be punished if they give alcohol or drugs to underage kids," said Steve Carlsen, superintendent for the North Summit School District.
At the time of his death, Hunter attended North Summit High School in Coalville.
"I’m sure kids will go steal it from the stores. But still the vast majority get it, I’m sure, from people of age," Carlsen lamented.
After leading the investigation, Summit County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brad Wilde said he was pleased with the sentences.
"Is it worth somebody’s life? No," Wilde said.
Adults mustn’t purchase alcohol for minors or let them consume liquor in their homes, Brickey stressed.
"If you’re in a situation as an adult and a minor asks you outside a convenience store, liquor store, restaurant or bar, to buy this drink, there are absolutely tragic consequences occasionally where a kid has one too many drinks and they’re dead," he said, adding that Hunter had more than twice the amount of alcohol in his blood that drivers are allowed by law. "He was not able to stand, walk or be coherent."
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