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Penalty slight for Waukesha party hosts who gave teens alcohol

A Waukesha County family hosted a party for underage drinkers last summer. Three teenagers who attended the Pewaukee party were killed on the way home in a car accident. All of the victims were 18 -- old enough to be legal adults, but too young to drink alcohol, according to state law.

The Pewaukee couple and their 18-year-old son were issued more than two dozen citations related to the fatal accident. Most of the charges were dismissed by prosecutors after family members agreed to pay a $2,700 fine.

The family will avoid a trial and possible prison time for the Arrowhead High School students' deaths. The teens were killed in Delafield when their car struck a tree.

A Green Bay police official said it was up to the "discretion" of an officer whether a second party is charged in an alcohol-related case. The family would have faced serious criminal charges if any of the victims was younger than age 18. Wisconsin criminal laws protect social hosts who give alcohol to legal adults, even when those adults are below drinking age.

Wisconsin social host and dram shop laws are similar. Dram shop statutes hold professional sellers and servers responsible for a minor patron's alcohol consumption and purchases. Social hosts are individuals who supply alcohol to people under 21 at parties or otherwise enable underage drinking in their home.

Liability lawsuits for personal injury and wrongful death may be filed against social hosts when impaired minors are hurt or killed in motor vehicle accidents. The Pewaukee couple and their son may escape harsh criminal punishment. That does not preclude the victims' parents from requesting damages in a civil court.

Defendants in a wrongful death trial might include the estate of the adult teen driver who died along with his companions. Co-defendants may include the Waukesha County family who decided that 18-year-olds were adult enough to handle alcohol.

Source: fox11online.com, "Parents, son fined for party that led to crash," Kelly Schlicht, March 19, 2013

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