News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Dozens listen at alcohol forum
May 30, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer
A forum on public intoxication in Fremont County drew more than 60 participants, including medical professionals, police officers, politicians, business owners and concerned citizens Tuesday morning at Riverton City Hall.
Lander police chief Jim Carey said the discussion could be the beginning of the end of Fremont County's alcohol problems.
Riverton police chief Mike Broadhead spearheaded the meeting alongside Fremont Counseling Service's prevention specialist Tauna GroomSmith, who wanted to get a dialogue going to see if there were any creative ideas for a solution.
Broadhead said that when he first came to Riverton he was told public intoxication in Riverton could not be fixed.
"I think the alcohol crisis center has been a godsend to our community," Broadhead said. "I think sometimes we are running in circles, and if we don't come up with a solution we will still be doing the exact same thing in five and 10 years. I think we can come up with a solution."
When Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn addressed the group, he said 95 percent of all county crime, whether domestic violence, battery or burglary, is alcohol-fueled.
"Will the solution to this ongoing problem he easy?" Varn asked the group. "No. Will the solution require some creativity? Yes. However, this can be done."
Wyoming Indian Schools superintendent Michelle Hoffman said children in the community often get mixed signals when they hear at school that alcohol is a bad thing and then watch their parents drinking.
"Alcohol is an addiction and can not be stopped until the ones addicted decide they are going to get clean," Hoffman said.
Hoffman, noting that she was a child of an alcoholic, said some of the ideas discussed during the forum wouldn't work.
"We are dealing with something that is much greater than just being thrown into jail. It is a lot bigger than alcohol being sold at stores."
Riverton City Councilwoman Diana Mahoney told the audience she is a social worker at Riverton Memorial Hospital. She said she deals with the same people repeatedly.
"We discharged a gentleman from the hospital who went out and drank all the hand sanitizers in town," Mahoney said. "Rubbing alcohol on the shelves of the grocery stores, stuff out on the counter, anything with alcohol in it is what is being consumed. Shutting down the liquor stores in town will not solve the problem, and you won't get anywhere closing down the bars."
A resident asked if there is anything that can be done to alcohol distributors in town who continually sell to people who have been deemed "public drunkards."
Broadhead said the problem with the "public drunkards" isn't with the liquor stores in the area. Often the offenders are in the alleyways getting other people to purchase the alcohol for them or stealing it. Many of them are not actually purchasing the alcohol.
Deanna Reach said she sees people staggering down Federal boulevard all the time who can't even stand up straight.
"The people I see head straight for the liquor store and come out with bags full of liquor, and I don't understand how we as a community can not put a stop to that," Reach said.
Former Riverton mayor John Vincent said it doesn't matter what color you are, where you live, where you bought the alcohol -- the booze is the problem.
"If we want to address the problem we need to put down our arms and stop worrying about who is going to take care of whom," Vincent said. "We all live here together and form a diverse group of treating people as humans, and we need to lay aside everyone's preconceived notions about the other side and work for the common good of finding a solution."
Fremont County public health registered nurse Karan Kunz claimed Fremont county is the unhealthiest county in Wyoming, listing alcohol as one of the main factors playing a role in traumatic deaths, car accidents, children's death, premature deaths, and safety issues in the community.
Wyoming state Sen. Eli Bebout suggested a program similar to the drug program D.A.R.E (drug abuse resistance education) and educating youth more about alcohol abuse.
Bebout said he transported a man trying to buy mouthwash at a mini-mart around until he sobered up but then didn't know where to take him.
"I drove him around and ended up turning him loose on the street," Bebout said. "I regret I didn't take him to the detox center."
Although no decisions were made at the meeting, Broadhead said it might be best to organize a smaller group of people to really focus on the core problems of public intoxication.
"Maybe after the smaller group meets we can have another forum and report to the group what has been discussed," Broadhead said. "I am committed to a new approach and don't want to have this same meeting in five years."
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Broadhead said he felt the meeting was a success and was pleased with the number of people who committed to being involved in a smaller discussion group.
"If the motivation is there, we as a community can solve any problem," Broadhead said.