CHICAGO—A new initiative resulting from Governor Rod Blagojevich’s Alcohol Abuse Task Force (AATF) designed to reduce underage alcohol sales to minors will be launched this month, one year after the death of 16-year-old Joey Tyrpak, who drowned last August after a liquor retailer sold alcohol to one of his underage friends. The new TrAIL (Tracking Alcohol in IL) Program, administered by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, was inspired by this tragedy in the hopes of saving others from the same fate.
TrAIL is funded through a $100,000.00 traffic safety grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The AATF, created to coordinate cross-agency cooperation in combating alcohol abuse in Illinois, provided the Liquor Commission with programmatic recommendations and funding sources.
“Governor Blagojevich created the Alcohol Abuse Task Force to combine the resources and expertise of state agencies and task force members to prevent alcohol abuse in Illinois,” said IDOT Secretary Timothy W. Martin. “Part of our responsibility is to bring those resources together and stop underage alcohol use, and we feel TrAIL will have a significant impact on deterring underage drinking.”
Since the tragic loss of her son, Debra Tyrpak has become a committed advocate against underage drinking. “I believe Joey’s death could have been prevented if a retailer had not sold alcohol to one of his peers on the night he died,” she says. “I know my son would want me to prevent other families from experiencing the pain our family has gone through.”
“Joey was one of the most caring, compassionate, loving young men with a whole life ahead of him,” says Tyrpak. “Unfortunately, he is no longer with us. His death has had an unbelievable impact on myself and his father, family members and friends. While TrAIL may not have saved Joey’s life, it should save the lives of other teens who are considering using alcohol.”
A TrAIL investigation would occur when underage alcohol consumption is suspected in an incident—such as a car crash, underage drinking party, alcohol poisoning/overdose, or other event—which results in injury or death. If the above criteria are met, first responding officers will call a 24-hour hotline number to deploy a TrAIL investigator, who will assist in the collection of evidence and determine where the alcohol was purchased or served.
Other benefits are also expected from TrAIL—including more extensive data on injuries and deaths caused by underage drinking and the creation of a central repository to catalog those who sell to minors.
In addition to its own special agents, the Liquor Commission enlisted the support of other state agencies to serve as TrAIL investigtors, including Illinois State Police troopers, Secretary of State Police officers, and the Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police. The August launch of TrAIL will occur in two pilot counties—Sangamon and Jackson—while a suburban Chicagoland county and rural northern Illinois county will be added in the fall.
Conducting a TrAIL investigation immediately after an incident greatly increases the odds of successfully tracking the alcohol purchase, according to law enforcement professionals. While the initial responding officer concentrates on the immediate aftermath of the incident (i.e., monitoring traffic flow, coordinating emergency vehicles around the scene, interviewing those involved in the incident, etc.), a TrAIL investigator will focus specifically on determining where the alcohol was purchased.
“The primary goal is not to arrest people, but to reduce the amount of alcohol that ends up in the hands of those who are underage,” says Ted Penesis, Industry Education Manager for the Liquor Commission. “With this in mind, the Liquor Commission created a public education campaign that details the consequences of underage drinking.”
Entitled Don’t Be Sorry, this communication and awareness campaign includes materials specially designed to reach teens, parents, and liquor retailers. “For example, one message we developed for teens focuses on the loss of freedom they will experience if caught drinking and driving.” Penesis adds.
The TrAIL concept is based on California’s successful TRACE (Target Responsibility for Alcohol Connected Emergencies) Program, which was inaugurated in 2004. This past June, nearly fifty Illinois investigators from the previously mentioned state agencies received specialized training. The training sessions, conducted by personnel from California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, focused on strategies and procedures used in tracking alcohol purchases.
Additional training sessions for local law enforcement agencies will be conducted early next year. “Enabling local law enforcement to conduct their own investigations will allow us the ability to expand TrAIL statewide in the not-too-distant future,” Penesis states. “As the program moves forward, we also plan on evaluating the criteria of when a TrAIL investigator is deployed.”