Editorial: Rowan store owner who sold teen beer should pay

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2012

The store owner sentenced last week in Rowan District Court for selling beer to a 16-year-old awaits judgment of another kind from the state ABC Commission. But even that won’t satisfy those calling for justice in this case. Until stores demand legitimate IDs, teens will continue to buy alcohol easily, too often with tragic results.
Hecham Abualeinan, owner of Z and H Mart on Mooresville Road, will serve 18 months of unsupervised probation under a plea arrangement worked out with the district attorney’s office. That’s less than a slap on the wrist, considering that the teenager who bought the beer without showing any ID, Jonah King, later died in an accident.
This is the first time Z and H Mart has been cited for selling to someone underage, according to the ABC Commission. If ABC officials go for the maximum penalty, Abualeinan’s business could be fined $3,000 and have its ABC license suspended for 30 days — a stiffer penalty that will affect his livelihood. Still, that is minor compared to the consequences of the sales.
Convenience stores and underage drinkers habitually break the state’s ABC laws. Review of surveillance film showed King was not asked for an ID; the store owner claimed the boy was a regular customer whose ID he had seen before. So far there is no proof of that.
Certainly the fake-ID industry acts as a silent partner in countless illegal transactions. False identification cards have become so ubiquitous that one New York store posted this sign — a joke, one hopes — for customers from the local high school: “Students must provide two (2) forms of fake ID.”
North Carolina has redesigned drivers licenses and ID cards to be more secure and tamper-resistant, an effort to thwart both underage drinkers and illegal immigrants. But not all states have taken such steps, and websites all over the country sell realistic-looking fake IDs. Stores can buy scanners that detect fakes, but technology marches on, and some counterfeiters can embed false information in the magnetic strips that computers use to read drivers licenses.
Of course, demand is as much a problem as supply when it comes to teens and alcohol. Substance-abuse prevention experts emphasize the importance of parents talking to kids about the risks of underage drinking sooner rather than later — at least by age 15, when many kids start. But parents battle powerful cultural and commercial forces. The push to reduce underage drinking requires vigilance from parents, law enforcement and stores that sell alcohol. When stores fail to be vigilant — when profit becomes more important than prudence — the penalty should be stiff. The law sets the minimum drinking age at 21 for good reason: Teenagers’ brains are not fully developed and cannot deal with alcohol’s effects maturely. Those who sell teens alcohol don’t just break the law; they gamble with others’ lives.