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February 9, 2007
Tifton - - South Georgia law enforcement officers are cracking down on a huge problem - underage drinking.
They're trying to spread the message that anyone caught selling alcohol illegally will face tough penalties.
Last weekend, Sumter County deputies busted a teen party and arrested three young people for drinking. The same day, officers in Tifton cited at least eight store clerks for selling alcohol to underage drinkers.
It was an undercover sting. Officers visited several convenience stores looking for violators selling alcohol to drinkers under 21. They caught 40 year old Sarla Patel of Gas & Go on 2nd Street West.
"I check everybody," she says. But that day it didn't happen. She says she was distracted when the disguised cop came in and forgot to check his ID.
People who live here say it happens all the time.
"Some of them don't speak really good English and these boys know this and they are intimidated by these kids when they come into the store," says Claudia Turner.
She believes many store clerks don't check ID to avoid confrontations.
"They [the underage shoppers] got dreads, they got pants hanging down, they look like thugs when they aren't. Instead of saying let me see your ID, they want to hurry up and get you out of the store," she adds.
At the Quick Change convenience store, also on 2nd Street West, the law is posted right on the wall right next to the alcohol, but apparently an employee there paid it no attention.
Her name is Kasey Brown.
"Kasey what happened?" we asked as she was visiting the store.
Brown shied away from answering us.
"You just forgot to check?" we asked as she walked away.
Managers at the Quick Change Convenience store say they're working to fix the problem.
"All I can tell you is we're encouraging them to ID more. That's all we can tell them. We keep telling them ID is very important especially when were close to the college and we got a lot of ABAC students coming in try to buy beer," Manager Becky Beltran says.
But how do you enforce it when clerks are "distracted" or "forget"?
"Was Kasey fired?" we asked Beltran.
"Yes," she answered.
That's the message this store is sending to its employees found in violation - - 'get our store in trouble and you're out of here.'
Patel says it won't happen again.
"Now, I'm no more. No more."
Officers hope others will also learn from their mistakes. Violators face a $300 fine.
Other stores cited during the sting are:
*Big Jim's on Main Street
*Peach Creek on 20th Street East
*Gas & Go on Ferrylake Road
*EZ Mart on Highway 82 West
*Mystik on Ferrylake Road
*Pepi's on 20th Street West
Tifton police are also investigating other convenience stores who may have also been in violation.