Five teens were sent home and one was sent to the hospital for alcohol consumption during a dance at the Outback Teen Center Oct. 25, New Canaan police said.
At 8:37 p.m., two police officers chaperoning the party observed a 15-year-old boy vomit on the floor while waiting in line for the dance. The officers called emergency services, and the boy was transported by ambulance to Norwalk Hospital.
The incident caused dance organizers to use a breathalyzer on some of the teens at the dance. In total, five more kids were found to have consumed alcohol, so organizers and police called each of their parents to pick them up, police said.
The Outback Teen Center at 71 Main St. has been providing a space for teens to socialize for 12 years in town. According to a mission statement, it is "dedicated to providing a positive and enriching environment in New Canaan where teens are able to relax, socialize, participate in self-directed activities, and have the opportunity to contribute to the community."
Police shut down a dance at the Outback two years ago after one teen was arrested and two others were sent to Norwalk Hospital for intoxication. Police said more than 200 teens attended the 2011 event, and "numerous" youths were intoxicated. That dance, originally slated from 8 to 11 p.m., was shut down by 9 p.m.
The incident caused the center to ramp up efforts to ensure sobriety at events, Sgt. Carol Ogrinc, New Canaan youth officer, said. She helped train staff in how to use the breathalyzer recently, she said.
According to the Outback's policy, teens are monitored for signs of intoxication upon entrance to social events. If teens appear to be drunk, a member of the staff will use the breathalyze on them, the center's "High School Party Protocol" states. Otherwise, if there is no suspicion of intoxication, the breathalyzer is not used. The policy also states that the center will maintain a ratio of one staff member for every 20 teens, as well as one to two police officers at each dance. On Oct. 25, there were nine parents and two police officers chaperoning the 200 teens in attendance, well within the 20:1 ratio, according to an email sent from Outback Interim Director Catharine Sturgess to parents the following day.
"Prior to the dance the inside of the building was inspected thoroughly for contraband," the email to parents stated. "All garbage containers, bookshelves, furniture and the bathrooms were inspected for signs of alcohol and drugs. Coats, bags and purses were checked at the door. All containers were disposed of at the door."
Police were sympathetic to the effort of the Outback in trying to have a sober dance.
"There may have been 200 kids there and that's going to taint everything," Oginc said, referring to the six kids. "(The Outback is) doing a good job, they're putting so much effort into having a safe place for kids to have fun. It's stressful, I know a lot of the staff working there were really concerned. My advice to them was ... it looks like what we're doing, it helped. If they hadn't identified these kids, who knows what could've happened to them."
The Outback held a meeting, Oct. 29, for parents to discuss the incident and what they'd like to see change. There will be another meeting on Friday with several of the town's community service providers, such as high school administrators and New Canaan CARES.
"We're discussing the whole issue of social events at the Outback," Sturgess said. "We want to get input from all parties before we make any decisions."
Sturgess said she was disappointed about the recent incident.
"As a parent of two children who grew up in New Canaan, I just think it's sad. These are very, very young children. Where are they getting the alcohol? That's the big question I think."
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