Christopher Vering had no idea a party could go so horribly wrong. But after a drinking-related car accident in January injured one, Vering could be sent to jail for providing alcohol to the involved driver.
Because of a bill passed in January in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, procuring for minors can now be a felony charge. LB 667, sponsored by Speaker Mike Flood, makes procuring alcohol for minors a felony if it results in injury or death to the minor.
Vering, a 21-year-old Richland, Neb., resident, is the first person in Nebraska to be charged with felony procuring. According to the police report, Vering bought beer for a party he hosted at his house. One of the attendees, Curtis Rubeck, a 19-year-old from Columbus, Neb., left the party and crashed into a concrete pole. Rubeck was ejected from the car but survived. Another accident after the party left two dead: Zachary Tharnish, 22, and Candace Randall-Stewart, 19, both of Columbus. That car’s driver, who had been drinking at Vering’s home, suffered criminal charges, but Vering was not indicted for the crash.
The law makes the distinction between procuring when it results in injuries or deaths and when it doesn’t.
Flood, Attorney General Jon Bruning and community service groups campaigned for the bill to be put to a vote back in January. Matt Hecker, University of Nebraska-Lincoln dean of students, said he believes the law sets a better precedent for preventing alcohol misuse.
“The new law is a renewed focus on harm prevention,” said Hecker, who is also the director of Judicial Affairs, the office that issues sanctions to students who commit any crimes.
“This holds people accountable for the actions that they make,” Hecker said.
He said by putting the potential for jail time on the procuring charge, it will cause students to make better decisions if they choose to drink. UNL’s alcohol policy focuses on reducing harm rather than having a zero-tolerance policy, he said.
“This law has sent a distinct message,” said Sgt. Jerry Plessel of the UNL Police Department.
The new law does not change how UNLPD investigates procuring and underage drinking, Plessel said.
According to university police data, there were 40 alcohol-related calls in August. The majority of the calls were minor in possession. Since the semester started, three UNL students have been cited for misdemeanor procuring for a minor.
Hecker said his office only sees roughly five cases of procuring per semester. Students procuring for a minor would suffer additional penalties in accordance with the student code of conduct, he said. According to the code, a misdemeanor offence may result in a warning or probation, while a felony charge could result in suspension or expulsion.
“Overall, it’s in the students’ best interest to minimize risk,” Hecker said. “This law simply does that.”
What it does: Passed in January, the law makes procuring alcohol for a minor a felony charge if injury or death results.