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Published: Thursday, 10/12/2006

Liquor agents crack down at state line

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ohio law requires alcohol consumed in Ohio to be purchased inside the state. Ohio law requires alcohol consumed in Ohio to be purchased inside the state.
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An impromptu kegger might sound appealing to some this weekend, but those who plan to imbibe should keep the state line in mind.

Along the Michigan-Ohio border, officers from the Ohio Department of Public Safety's investigative unit - liquor agents - are starting to crack down on motorists bringing beer and liquor south of the divide.

A decades-old Ohio law that harkens back to the Prohibition era and has been revised over the years requires all intoxicating alcohol consumed in the state to be purchased from its licensed establishments.

There are few exceptions to the measure, said Earl Mack, the agent-in-charge of the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Toledo investigative unit.

So agents have begun setting up surveillance near Michigan liquor and beer stores, watching motorists with Ohio plates as they load up kegs and head south.

"When they cross that state line, they're ours," Mr. Mack said.

Mack Mack
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The decision by Ohio agents to initiate state line surveillance follows a weekend sting tied to the University of Toledo's homecoming and "Binge Drinking Operation 2006," an effort to curb underage drinking.

Agents spent a hefty part of last weekend breaking up UT student parties and citing adults who provided beer to underage drinkers.

But they also spent time watching places like Flick's Package Liquor Inc., 3320 Sterns Rd., Lambertville - just two miles north of the state line in Bedford Township.

Ohio residents buy kegs there, in large part, because of convenience.

In Ohio, kegs must be purchased from a distributor and Toledo's two main beer distributors close at 5 p.m., Mr. Mack said.

But as soon as Ohio drivers crossed into the Buckeye State last weekend, Toledo police and Ohio Highway Patrol troopers joined public safety agents in pulling over vehicles in search of the telltale kegs.

On Friday and Saturday, they charged 15 people, age 18 to 23, with "illegal transportation of beer or intoxicating liquor." The first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Patrick Culhane was among them.

The 23-year-old financial services student said he was expecting friends in for the weekend and was returning to the University of Toledo campus with $147 in beer when he was confronted by police.

"It was really scary. They had three undercover cars. I was kind of freaking out," Mr. Culhane said. "They asked me where I got the kegs. I said 'Flicks in Michigan,' and they said, 'You know it's illegal?'•"

Mr. Culhane said he didn't. He wasn't alone.

Colleen Drakage, a 23-year-old student from Cleveland, returned to campus Friday - her weekend likewise interrupted after agents seized two kegs of Natural Light.

"I understand that ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse," she conceded. "I guess I go in there [to court] and say, 'I'm very, very sorry. And I didn't mean to offend.'•"

In Michigan, adults may bring up to 312 ounces of alcohol - a case of wine or a bit more than a case of beer - from out of state every 24-hour period, said Julie Wendt, director of licensing for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

Messages seeking comment from Flick's were not returned, but Mr. Mack emphasized that it did not appear that Flick's had broken any law when it sold the alcohol to the adults.

Mr. Mack pointed out that agents legally could have seized vehicles last weekend, but they took only the illegal liquor.

"A couple of the kids said they'd rather us take their cars than the kegs," Mr. Mack said, adding after a pause: "I'm hoping they were joking."

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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