Leaders of about a dozen restaurants joined Wellington staff and officials, members of the equestrian community and law enforcement on Thursday to discuss solutions to underage drinking and drinking and driving in the village — and Operation Wild Stallion, a law-enforcement effort to crack down on the behavior.
The roundtable was put together in the wake of the Nov. 25 crash that killed 19-year-old Dana McWilliams and 21-year-old Christian Kennedy, two up-and-coming equestrians. Elaine O’Halloran, 24, was critically injured.
The crash, which happened on South Shore Boulevard north of Lake Worth Road, involved “speed and alcohol,” said Village Manager Paul Schofield — marking the first official confirmation that alcohol was a factor in the wreck. A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report released soon after the crash did not mention alcohol.
The discussion centered on Operation Wild Stallion, which has been underway for two weeks. Capt. Rolando Silva of PBSO’s District 8 said deputies are stepping up DUI enforcement, with an increased presence along Wellington’s major thoroughfares.
But as undercover deputies have began going into restaurants in the village, they have noticed a rash of young people with fake identification, Silva said, adding that many of them are international.
“It’s a felony to be in possession of one of these,” he said. “They need to know that.”
Player’s Club owner Neil Hirsch brought to the meeting a scanner his nightclub uses to verify the authenticity of IDs presented to his staff.
“There’s a lot of scanners that are less expensive,” he said, noting that many of those only scan the magnetic strip on the back of Florida driver’s licenses. “But this also does the bar code, because a lot of licenses from different states use bar codes instead of mag strips.”
But a new challenge has arisen, Hirsch said: Newer IDs have valid magnetic strips or bar codes that trick his scanner.
“They’ll run through the machine and say that they’re real,” he said.
John K. Darrah, manager of the Player’s Club, brought a binder — “And this is just one,” he noted — of scanned images of fake IDs. There were hundreds more in his office, he said after the meeting.
“My biggest fear is what happened,” Darrah said of the November crash.
Much of the discussion also centered on what the community can do to educate teens and parents about the risks of drinking, or even being caught with a fake ID.
“You’re taking a real risk just by being in possession of this stuff,” Silva said.
Palm Beach Central High School Principal Darren Edgecomb said he felt the discussion about educating and disciplining those caught with fake IDs or drinking underage was “hitting the nail on the head.”
The key, he said, was “getting the kids to understand the undiscovered dreams that they’re preventing themselves from having access to.” An arrest or citation could mean no homecoming, no prom — or no graduation.
“I think it has to be education from the point of view of, ‘What are you going to lose?’” he said.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind lives just a few hundred feet from where the crash took place. She recalled watching the Trauma Hawk land that night to pick up the injured passenger. The thought that ran through her head: What if it had been her daughter?
“She stays out late sometimes watching movies at her friends’ houses, or studying,” Siskind said. “She could have been on that road. It really hit home for me.”
Wellington Vice Mayor John McGovern challenged the restaurant owners to move up and set a hard time for last call “to give people time to regather themselves” and find rides home, while also calling on them to increase free ride services that some already have started.
“I think this was an important first step at a critical moment as we head into the holidays, as we head into school vacation, as we head into the equestrian season,” McGovern said after the roundtable.