A bartender in Ada recently pleaded guilty to charges of furnishing intoxicating liquor to an intoxicated person after he served at least 24 shots to a 21-year-old customer who ended up with alcohol poisoning. An Akron bar has been cited for serving alcohol to an underage female who was involved in a serious car crash last spring. Those are just two prosecutions that have resulted from investigations by the Ohio Investigative Unit. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, the Ohio Investigative Unit’s Agent in Charge, Eric Wolf, explains how the state agency operates what’s known as "traceback investigations."
WOLF: "It’s basically a service that’s available to any law enforcement agency here in Ohio where if they request our assistance, basically we can come in, assist with the investigation, and try and found out the source of that alcohol, if it’s tied into a bar or carryout, and find out if there’s any criminal or civil action takes place that needs to go before the appropriate board or court."
INGLES: "What’s the criteria for going out and looking, trying to trace this back. Does it have to be a particular level of severity?"
WOLF: "No, there’s particular level. Our assistance is called in for anything from crashes that involve alcohol all the way to incidents in permit premises where individuals are assaulted, or some other crime takes place in a permit premises. So they can literally call in assistance from the Ohio Investigative Unit for a situation where they think any permit holder may be liable for some criminal or administrative act."
INGLES: "Can you get called in when a bunch of teenagers are hosting an underage party on the weekend at their parents' home?"
WOLF: "Certainly. That may not fall into necessarily a traceback investigation, per se, but we get complaints of that all of the time. That there are high school graduation parties or prom parties, we'll get situations where parents are hosting a party for a number of underage individuals. So we'll be involved in any of those types of investigations. It’s just a matter of receiving the complaints either from law enforcement agencies or from the general public."
INGLES: "So what happens when you trace the, you kind of walk this back, and you find out what the source of the alcohol was, who might have been doing what prior to an incident, what happens at that point?"
WOLF: "Basically there are two avenues. We can either -- depending on the situation and the evidence we collect, there are criminal charges that we can file for serving an intoxicated person or serving alcohol to persons that are (under) 21 years of age. And there are also basically administrative charges that we can file against the liquor permit itself. And the criminal charges obviously go to the local county courts, and, or municipal courts. And the administrative citations go before the Ohio Liquor Control Commission."
INGLES: "Why is this important to trace back to find out where the alcohol is coming from?"
WOLF: "Well a lot of it centers around, basically, individuals running a responsible business. It’s an effort to hold the permit holders and the bar owners, and the individuals that run these liquor permit establishments, making sure they follow the law. At the same time, we want to try and, as much as we can, provide some sort of deterrent to try and prevent individuals, especially after they’ve been consuming alcohol, from operating a motor vehicle. So it’s a way to try and make sure the permit holders stay in line as well as give them incentive keep track of individuals. And hey, if somebody has had too much to drink, to make every effort to keep them out of a vehicle. There are so many crashes, especially some of the wrong-way crashes recently in Dayton and Toledo, or alcohol-involved crashes. It’s doing whatever we can to keep impaired individuals off the road basically to prevent injury and death to other innocent citizens here in Ohio."
Wolf says the investigations are done free-of-charge for law enforcement officials who request them. The unit has been in place for many years now but has been making changes recently to make it work more effectively. In addition to investigating alcohol-related crimes, the unit also looks into cases of food stamp fraud.