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Published: Monday, 4/21/2014


Deadly mistake

A West Toledo convenience store clerk who sold vodka to a 17-year-old high school student — a transaction that became a factor in another student’s death — was sentenced last week to six months in jail. His lawyers question why he was given the maximum sentence, but the clerk’s mistake was lethal.

Deciding to check someone’s identification is a judgment call. Some 40-year-old people appear so youthful they could pass for 20; there are others whose locks are white by the time they turn 18.

Many stores display signs that promise to card anyone who appears to be under 30, but what tells the true story of someone’s age? Documentation. Those who sell intoxicants must do what Ohio law dictates: ensure that no alcohol is sold to anyone who is not 21.

The clerk, Nicholas Thompson, was convicted in Lucas County Common Pleas Court of selling or furnishing intoxicating liquor to a minor on Feb. 1, 2013. The jury found that Mr. Thompson sold vodka to Blake Pappas, a friend and classmate of 18-year-old Brian Hoeflinger, who was killed that night in a crash while he was driving.

Mr. Pappas and Michael Geiger, another Ottawa Hills High School senior who went to the liquor store with Mr. Hoeflinger, testified they were not asked for identification when Mr. Pappas paid for the vodka with money the three young men had pooled. The students weren’t using fake identification cards; they weren’t even challenged.

Mr. Thompson had exhibited a pattern of poor judgment: Court records show that the Feb. 1, 2013 incident was the second time in five months that he sold alcohol to a minor at the store where he worked. He was cited in Toledo Municipal Court for selling beer to a person under 21 on Sept. 8, 2012, pleaded guilty, and was ordered to pay a $150 fine and court costs.

That penalty evidently had little effect. Though Mr. Thompson could not have reasonably foreseen Mr. Hoeflinger’s death — his blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly double the legal limit for adult drivers — the fact remains: The clerk illegally sold liquor to a minor.

Mr. Thompson will likely carry a degree of guilt for years to come. But it is everybody’s responsibility — parents, alcohol sellers, teachers, coaches, and students — to help reduce incidents of alcohol use and drunken driving by minors.

This case should be a wake-up call for all who sell alcohol. The adage ‘better safe than sorry’ is right on the money.

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