Race workers watch for teen drinkers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 13, 1999

After problems last year with underage drinking at the balloon race, minors who drink alcohol this year may get more than they bargained for.

The Natchez Police Department will be keeping a close watch at the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race this weekend for underage drinking.

&uot;If they are minors consuming alcohol they will be charged with possession (of alcohol by a minor),&uot;&160;said Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff.

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And any intoxicated adults will also be charged, Huff added. &uot;We are just encouraging people to have a responsible good time,&uot; he said.

Police and balloon race organizers says they are cracking down on drinking this weekend because of problems during last year’s race.

An agent with Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control made nine arrests on the festival grounds during last year’s balloon race.

Seven people were charged with possession of beer by a minor, one person was charged with possession of alcohol by by a minor and one bartender was charged with sale of alcohol to a minor.

So police and balloon race organizers have been working to minimize the problem this year.

&uot;I’m satisfied with (organizers’) efforts to discourage it,&uot; Huff said.

Balloon race Chairman Laura Godfrey said workers will try to prevent illegal alcohol sales, despite the huge crowd expected. &uot;We have always tried to successfully identify underage drinkers,&uot; she said. &uot;Once again we will have our people carding every single person.&uot;

Workers are trained to spot possible problems with identification cards, Godfrey said. &uot;The consumers have a personal responsibility when they drink,&uot; she said.

But when the drinkers are underage or drink excessively it also is the race’s responsibility, she added.

As in past years, people of legal drinking age will receive a nontransferable wrist band after producing identification.

But these people may be carded again, if workers have reason to be suspicious.

&uot;We won’t sell if the ID is not (right,)&uot; Godfrey said.

And vendors may limit sales to people who drink excessively, she added.

Police will patrol the festival the entire weekend and race-officials have increased the number of security officers, Godfrey said.

As part of this weekend’s regulations, pedestrians can not enter or leave the festival grounds with alcohol. They also can only drink it in paper or plastic cups. &uot;It can not be in bottles or cans,&uot; Huff said.

The race will offer free rides home to anyone who needs them.