Over 250 cited during IU's Little 500 weekend

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Amid a huge crackdown by Indiana State Excise Police and despite plenty of advance warning, over 250 people were ticketed and dozens were arrested during Indiana University's Little 500 events this weekend.

Also, police are investigating an incident that left an IU student dead and another injured. Linden Whitt, 20, of Mishawaka, died after falling from a balcony. Joseph Lao, 20, was injured. Lao told police he'd been drinking vodka.

Hundreds of young people being ticketed or arrested for underage drinking and other offenses is a picture of IU that administrators didn't want to see.

"I am definitely concerned about the numbers," said Steve Veldkamp, assistant dean of students.

The numbers include 256 citations written by Excise Police - more than any other year - along with 271 individuals hauled into court.

The increase in alcohol arrests may have more to do with stricter enforcement than an increase in underage drinking. A federal grant paid for additional excise officers.

About half the citations were given to students who don't attend IU. Excise officers say there were citing students from Ball State, Purdue and universities from other states.

"There is only so much you can do to put it in kids' heads they shouldn't be drinking," remarked Rachel Warsco, an IU senior.

Students and IU say they've done plenty. On the Bloomington campus, incoming students must complete an alcohol and drug awareness course before registering for classes.

Throughout the school year, administrators and student groups are trying to foster a "Culture of Care."

"Students taking care of students and intervening when they've had too much and are not making good choices," said Steve Veldkamp, assistant dean of students.

Students say everyone hears the messages, but not enough are listening

"The issue is people forget the personal accountability. It falls on the person who is drinking. It is your choice," said Josh Smith, IU senior.

In this case, it was a costly choice: $425 in fines and court fees, along with community service and an alcohol awareness class.

Some young people were so intoxicated this weekend that the party could have easily cost them their lives.

An excise officer likely saved a Bloomington man's life after finding him unable to stand or walk on East 14th Street. The man told the officer he intended to drink until he died. The man had a blood alcohol content of .50 percent after drinking nearly half of a 1.75L bottle of vodka. The man had just been released from the hospital.

In another case, a 17-year-old girl from Tipton tested .20 percent BAC after being caught by an excise officer. She'd come to Bloomington without telling her parents. The officer called her parents to pick her up.

The majority of tickets were for alcohol offenses, particularly illegal possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages. Officers also made arrests for theft, trespass, possession of marijuana, resisting law enforcement, false informing, furnishing or providing alcoholic beverages to a minor and public intoxication.

The offenders donned yellow vests Monday and helped with cleanup around town. They also took intensive alcohol and drug information classes Sunday, all part of a court diversion program to keep criminal convictions off their records.

"One of my good friends had to do the same thing. He was just bummed, you know," said student Dajana Zeljkovic.

If her friend has no other alcohol violations for one year, he'll have a clean record.

"That inducement is part of the reason why we only see about a five percent repeat offender rate," said Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Miller.

"I didn't go out and drink, so it's a big deal for me. I didn't want to lose a scholarship or anything," said student Jeremiah Holland-Anderson.

The crackdown includes a big local and state Excise Police presence, called "Operation ICE," now in it's third month. In February, officers wrote 461 citations for alcohol. In March, they wrote 280, followed by the 256 this past weekend alone.

But is the enforcement and penalties enough to deter the behavior?

"If they get caught once and they have to do that, possibly won't want to get caught again," said one student.

But not for all.

"When I was underage, I got a few tickets," said another student, Nick. "I spent 14 hours in the drunk tank."

Indiana University Dean Steve Veldkamp said it's about "basically students taking care of students and intervening when they think they've had too much or are making not good choices."

Plus, IU has incoming students taken online alcohol training before arriving on campus.

"It's very important," said Margaret Rawson, visiting with her son, who is looking at IU. "He won't be under direct supervision. I won't be able to see the whites of his eyes, to know when he comes home and that sort of thing. There's a lot of faith."