A Nov. 16 article about a youth who died in a car crash after a drinking party in Montgomery County incorrectly said that all of the juveniles at the party had alcohol in their systems. Police said four of the 14 youths who were cited for alcohol possession did not have alcohol in their systems when breath tests were administered. (Published 11/18/04)
When Montgomery County police arrived at the stone and yellow clapboard house in North Potomac at 4:30 Saturday morning, 14 teenagers remained inside -- along with the evidence of a large party.
Empty beer cans, the remnants of 12-packs and 30-packs, were found in the house, police said. All of the teenagers -- 16- and 17-year-olds -- had been drinking, breath tests showed. They were cited for alcohol possession and sent home with their parents, said Lt. Ronald Smith, deputy director of special operations for the Montgomery police.
The event that led the three officers to the party's aftermath took place four miles away and three hours earlier on a rain-slicked two-lane road. After leaving the party, Sarkis George Nazarian Jr., 16, was killed about 1:30 a.m. when the 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee he was driving slid off Travilah Road and hit a tree.
His death brought a new round of grief and soul searching to a county where 11 teenagers have died in car accidents involving teen drivers this year -- more than five times as many as in 2003. In many of those deaths, police say, alcohol and speed were factors.
The news of Nazarian's death prompted parents, school administrators and police to lash out yesterday at what many described as an alarming rise in teen drinking and driving.
"I'm getting close to the point where I want to tell parents just not to let your kids go out on Friday and Saturday night unless you know exactly where they're going," said Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger. "The answer is not more cops. We can only do so much. It's the parents. The parents are the ones that should be able to control their kids."
The parents of the teenager who hosted the party in the 11900 block of Cragwood Way were not at home, and there is no evidence they knew about the gathering, police said. Paul Johnson, the teenager's father, declined to comment last night.
Thomas Hougen called his neighbors a "terrific family" and said he did not see or hear signs of a party. "I'm not someone who's shy about reporting things," he said, "but we heard nothing, and we were home all night."
Robyn Solomon, PTSA president at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, where Nazarian was a junior, called the spate of traffic deaths an "epidemic."
"Parents need to be talking to their kids and explaining to them the risk," she said. "Kids just think they're infallible -- that this can't happen to him. I wish that were true."
Montgomery police have stepped up weekend patrols of teen street racing spots, and county officials last month launched a campaign to discourage adults from buying alcohol for teenagers. School administrators have pleaded with students to abstain from drinking and fast driving, pointing to the deaths reported in newspapers and on television.
Tonight, a PTSA meeting at Churchill High will be devoted to a discussion of teenagers and alcohol.
Nazarian's death, some parents and county officials said, signaled a problem that county initiatives cannot solve. "Schools can't do everything, and parents have to be parents and not their child's best friend," said Laura Siegel, Churchill's PTSA vice president. "Having so many kids die in the metro area in the past two months, maybe that's enough of a wake-up call."
In September, after five young people died in three accidents on a single weekend, Montgomery officials said they were going to crack down on unsafe driving and teen drinking. For six weeks, there were no more teen driving deaths.
Then Nazarian was killed early Saturday. And six hours earlier, Solomon J. King, 16, of North Potomac died after he was struck by a car witnesses told police was possibly a Honda Accord. That incident also occurred on Travilah Road in North Potomac.
Police investigating the Saturday morning accident said it was unclear how much Nazarian and his two passengers, who suffered minor injuries, drank at the party. Acquaintances and family members of Nazarian said he did not appear to be affected by alcohol when he left the party, and police said they have not determined whether alcohol was a factor in his death.
Police discovered the party after interviewing Nazarian's passengers, and about 4:30 a.m., the three officers arrived at the house in North Potomac.
The teenager whose parents own the home answered the door and let police in, Smith said. All of the 14 teenagers there submitted to breath tests. Their blood alcohol levels ranged from 0.02 to 0.08, Smith said. The legal limit for adult drivers is 0.08, but for minors, even a trace of alcohol is illegal.
Police continue to investigate who provided the teenagers with the beer, Smith said. If an adult is found to have bought alcohol for minors, the maximum penalty is a $500 citation, said Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.
"In a case where an adult does furnish alcohol to a minor, I do think there should be a greater range of possibilities, including incarceration, that should be available to prosecutors," Gansler said. "There should be other punishments available."
Staff writer Ian Shapira and researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.