By Marsha Sutton
The investigation into the party held the night of a car crash that killed Torrey Pines High School student Alex Capozza is ongoing, reported an official with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“It’s still an open case, (although) we don’t have a lot of witnesses coming forward,” said Shelley Bishop, an investigator with ABC’s Target Responsibility for Alcohol Connected Emergencies (TRACE) unit.
Bishop said she needs more information from first-hand witnesses, in this case minors, who attended the party.
“We’d love to talk to the kids, but people have been uncooperative,” she said.
Investigators are looking into events surrounding the night of Oct. 3 and the early morning hours of Oct. 4 when five Torrey Pines High School students left a party in Rancho Santa Fe where alcohol was present. The driver was drunk and crashed the car going around a tight curve well in excess of the posted speed limit, killing passenger Alex Capozza and injuring another boy.
The 17-year-old driver was sentenced last month to serve time in the youth correctional facility at Camp Barrett in east San Diego County for gross vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence.
What happened that night at the party and who provided the alcohol are questions being asked by the ABC. But so far, Bishop said it’s been frustrating.
Parents need to give permission for their kids to speak with the ABC, but few are, said Bishop, even after giving assurances that no charges will be filed against the minors.
“We’re not after the children,” she said.
The ABC has many names of possible witnesses, but “kids don’t cooperate and parents become protective,” Bishop said. Some families have hired attorneys who advised them not to speak to authorities, she said.
“We need people to talk,” she said. “I’ve got to have proof, not rumors. That’s not evidence.”
The ABC wants to know where the minors obtained the alcohol and what the owners of the house where the party was held may have known.
She said it is difficult to prosecute a parent whose son or daughter holds a party in the parent’s absence, if the parent says he or she had no knowledge of the party.
“We would love to hold someone responsible for this,” Bishop said. “But we’re idling at a big stop sign and don’t know if we’ll run out of gas.”
Social host ordinances target and make liable any individuals who own, lease or control property where underage drinking takes place. Laws also prohibit individuals from furnishing alcohol to anyone under 21 years old.
According to SocialHost.org, “Family members are the most frequent source of alcohol for younger adolescents.”
Nancy Logan, prevention specialist for the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug-Free Youth, said her group fully supports the goals of social host ordinances.
“We are behind it all the way,” she said. “It is making adults responsible. We cannot let parents think it’s OK.”
Logan said many parents think minors can drink at their house and be safe if they take away their car keys.
“That’s a misconception we need to eliminate,” she said. “That’s not being a responsible parent. If they say you can drink in my home if I have your car keys, they are condoning underage drinking.”
If parents knowingly host underage drinkers in their homes, they could be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail, Logan said.
“In a regular social host case, whoever owns the home, whoever is at the home, can be cited,” she said.
Every municipality in San Diego County, except Del Mar, has enacted a social host ordinance.
“We just got Carlsbad a few months ago,” Logan said.
Although the parties continue, Logan said the social host laws have made an impact.
“I would like to see more people getting the citation and then word gets out,” she said. “That would do the trick. They need to issue more citations. It will get people talking. It will make parents aware that they cannot allow underage drinking in their homes.”
The TRACE unit of the ABC handles cases where death or serious injury has resulted from underage drinking. According to a TRACE fact sheet, the ABC conducts an investigation “to determine where the alcoholic beverages were acquired, purchased or served.”
TRACE investigator Bishop said she wants to know where the minors got the alcohol and who supplied it. She said she isn’t dropping the case yet, but it’s difficult to pursue much longer without cooperation from witnesses.
She asked parents of children who are potential witnesses to view the situation from the perspective of Alex’s parents. “They need answers; they need the truth,” she said.
Bishop asks anyone with information on this matter to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 861-6238.
This newspaper does not publish the names of minors charged with crimes.