Party Host Mom Set for Va. Jail Term

Brandon, left, and Ryan Kenty will drive their mother, Elisa Kelly, to jail Monday, when she is to start a 27-month sentence for providing alcohol at Ryan's 16th birthday party in 2002.
Brandon, left, and Ryan Kenty will drive their mother, Elisa Kelly, to jail Monday, when she is to start a 27-month sentence for providing alcohol at Ryan's 16th birthday party in 2002.

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By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Ryan Kenty, 20, and his brother Brandon, still a sophomore in high school, plan to drive their mother to jail Monday morning before heading back to her rented apartment to move the rest of her belongings into storage.

Their mom, Elisa Kelly, and her ex-husband, George Robinson, are paying the price for hosting Ryan's 16th birthday party -- more than two years in jail each. Ryan had asked his mother to buy his friends some beer and wine, as long as they all spent the night.

"No one left the party," said Kelly, 42, who collected car keys that night almost five years ago to prevent anyone from leaving. "No one was hurt. No one drove anywhere. I really don't think I deserve to go to jail for this long."

But Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney James L. Camblos III, who prosecuted the parents, said it was the worst case of underage drinking he has had to deal with in 15 years. "Not only were they serving alcohol to 15- and 16-year-olds, they misled parents who called to ask about alcohol, and they tried to get the kids to cover it up after police got there," Camblos said.

In this season of senior proms and graduation parties, the story of the couple is a cautionary tale for parents if they plan to serve alcohol -- or look the other way. It comes at a time of increased concern about the effects of drinking and driving and underage binge drinking, which is on the rise. Although 27-month sentences are rare, parents are increasingly being held criminally responsible for underage drinking under their roofs, even if they are not aware that it is going on.

"In a lot of cases, the parents are the problem," said Diane Eckert, a prevention specialist in the Safe and Drug-Free Youth section of Fairfax County schools. "The majority of our youth say they obtain their alcohol in their parents' homes."

Eckert recently helped launch an awareness campaign in the county called Parents Who Host Lose the Most. She said parents have to realize that it is illegal for those under 21 to drink and against the law for adults to provide them with alcohol.

"A lot of our parents were able to drink when they were 18, and we're in a culture that endorses drinking as a rite of passage," Eckert said.

Kelly and Robinson -- the boys' stepfather -- were charged with nine misdemeanor counts each of contributing to the delinquency of a minor resulting from the August 2002 backyard birthday bash. Both were originally sentenced to eight years, but the sentences were reduced to 27 months. The case was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently declined to hear it.

Robinson's attorney, Jonathan Wren, called the jail time the "harshest sentence of its kind by a long shot." Wren said his client declined to comment.

About 30 kids were at the Robinson property on remote Bleak House Road in Earlysville, Va., when police arrived about 11 p.m. after receiving a call about underage drinking. Many of the kids scattered into the nearby woods after one of them yelled, "Cops!"

The couple initially were charged with 16 misdemeanor counts, but seven of the partygoers had no alcohol in their systems. Of the nine who did, all were below the legal limit for intoxication, according to Wren.

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