Teens and alcohol never mix: Mom who hosted beer party faces prison after three teens died in DUI crash

June 28th, 2018

By Dean I Weitzman, Esq.


It was a high school graduation party gone wrong after the mother of a high school grad served a half-keg of beer to her son’s friends in celebration of their accomplishment.

Tragedy struck after three of the teens were killed in a car crash less than a mile from the party, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this week. The 19-year-old driver of the vehicle had been drinking alcohol at another party he attended that day, and was legally drunk when he left the second party, the story reported.

A seatbelt and broken glass litter a crash scene in this photo from a car accident. Image credit: ©

A seatbelt and broken glass litter a crash scene in this photo from a car accident. Image credit: ©

The mother, Susan Sanders-Watt, 60, of Greensburg, Pa., pleaded guilty this week in connection with the crash to four counts of corruption of minors, four counts of reckless endangerment and 17 citations of serving alcohol to minors, according to the paper.

Sanders-Watt now faces a maximum prison term of 45 years in prison. She will be sentenced this spring. She could have faced charges of involuntary manslaughter but those charges weren’t pursued since the driver of the vehicle also drank at the earlier party, contributing to his intoxication, the paper reported.

Three young lives snuffed out, all for a beer party. A mother’s life ruined at 60 years of age, now preparing to spend what could be many years in prison, all because of one bad decision she made on June 26, 2010, when she served the beer at the party.

It’s such a waste.

Serving alcohol to under-aged persons is not just illegal, but it has huge and dangerous implications, as this tragic incident makes very clear.

“We’re recommending a period of incarceration because three people were killed as a result of consuming alcohol,” Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said, according to the paper. “I think adults have to realize there are going to be horrible consequences giving alcohol to minors.”

That’s the understatement of the decade.

The teen driver of the vehicle and his two passengers were graduates of Greensburg-Salem High School, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, according to the paper. The 1998 Buick Skylark they were riding in ran off a road and crashed. One other teen in the car survived.

“Sanders-Watt told police that she checked with the teens to make sure those who were drinking were not driving,” the paper reported.

That’s not enough, however.

An underage motorist (under 21 years of age) in Pennsylvania is considered to be intoxicated with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.02 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). That compares to a BAC of .08 percent for adults. The law also stipulates that commercial drivers can be convicted of a DUI nationwide with a BAC level of .04 percent, according to the PLCB. A driver may be convicted of DUI at .05 percent and above if there is supporting evidence of driving impairment, the agency says.

The teen driver of the car had a blood-alcohol content of 0.147 percent, according to the newspaper, while the two teen passengers who died had BAC levels of 0.127 percent and 0.084 percent.

So far, investigators in the case have not been able to determine who provided the alcohol that was served at the earlier party that the teens attended, according to the paper.

At Sanders-Watt’s court appearance, survivors of the teens who died asked the judge to issue the maximum sentence allowed in the case. “I have lost my faith in myself as a mother,” said Mollie Cobb, the mother of one victim, as reported by the Tribune-Review. “I was unable to keep my son safe although so many times we had discussed it. I should have said more or said something differently. I am haunted by those last few moments of his life.”

No one should have to undergo such anguish.

The thinking of some parents, that if they allow their under-aged children to drink in their own homes they are somehow safer, is flawed and also illegal on its face.

There is no safe way for under-aged drinkers to drink.

It shouldn’t be allowed with parental consent. It shouldn’t be allowed at all.

We know that it happens in the real world, as kids obtain alcohol illegally in middle school, high school and college. That doesn’t make it right.

As parents, it’s our job to teach our children and protect them as best we can. It means making tough decisions. It often means saying no.

That’s what should have happened in this case. Someone should have said no.

The teens still might have obtained alcohol somewhere, but it wouldn’t have come with the approval of a parent who should have known better.

We can all learn from this tragic mistake and through it, we can work to prevent similar tragedies.

Perhaps, though, something good can even come out of it through education.

In just a few months,  a local chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) will hold a 5K Walk Like MADD event in Conshohocken on June 24, 2012, to raise money to continue its programs aimed at halting drunk driving in our area.

The event will be held on the Schuylkill River Trail and the money raised will be put to use in the group’s Southeast Region serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties, and parts of the North Central Region including Berks, Lehigh and Northampton Counties. The goal for the event is to raise $80,000.

“Last year, there were 3,549 people killed or injured in these counties by a drunk driver,” according to MADD.

In honor of the three teen victims who died in the Greensburg crash, maybe we can all do something personally in our communities to raise awareness about the dangers of teen drinking and give a great example to our own children.

It would be a good start.

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