August 04, 2020

Cherryfield man to be jailed for party

MACHIAS — The 45-year-old Cherryfield man whose home was the scene of a drinking party attended by Narraguagus High School students will report to the Washington County Jail on Saturday to begin a four-day sentence.

Zoltan Croll was summoned on a charge of furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol after state police raided his Sprague Falls Road home on the evening of Nov. 5, 1999.

Police found 33 people in the house. All but one, a 21-year-old, were minors. One 18-year-old boy was passed out in a back room and was rushed to Maine Coast Memorial Hospital suffering from alcohol poisoning.

Croll initially pled not guilty to the charge, but changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday during a hearing before Washington County District Court Judge Bernard Staples.

Croll’s admission of guilt was part of a plea bargain, according to Washington County Assistant District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh said Croll was charged with a Class D misdemeanor and could have been sentenced to up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

In exchange for the state recommending a four-day sentence, Croll pleaded guilty and his attorney dropped both a motion for a jury trial and a motion to suppress any evidence that was found when police searched his home.

Croll’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, filed the motion to suppress based on his contention that police did not have a warrant to search Croll’s home. Silverstein did not return a call to his office on Thursday.

Cavanaugh said the state recommended the four-day sentence because Croll had no previous record. Cavanaugh said he’s worked in Washington County for 11 years and doesn’t know of one person who’s been sentenced to jail for furnishing alcohol to a minor. Most people are fined, he said.

According to the police report, four state troopers entered Croll’s home after receiving information that a large number of Narraguagus students might be attending a drinking party at the residence.

Croll met police in the driveway, telling Trooper Barry Curtis that the kids were going to drink somewhere and he was furnishing them a safe place to do it, according to Curtis’s report.

Police entered the house where they found two to three large bags of empty beer cans and the 18-year-old passed out on a coach, according to the report.

After alerting the boy’s stepmother and calling an ambulance, the troopers began sorting out the drinkers from the nondrinkers. Police allowed the nondrinkers to drive the drinkers home, according to the report.

Croll continued to talk to police, telling them he’d been having the parties “off and on all fall” and felt it was a lot safer for the kids to drink there than go to a gravel pit. He said the parties usually involved his son’s friends, who usually stayed the night, but that this party “had gotten a little bigger than he had planned,” according to the report.

The summons charging Croll with furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol listed the names of nine students. Trooper Garry Curtis, who issued the summons, described the students as “a few of the obviously intoxicated people who were present.”

The next day, Steven Pagels, the chairman of the SAD 37 school board and the father of the boy who was rushed to the hospital, informed Narraguagus High School Principal Doak of his son’s participation in the party. The boy was an athlete and had violated the school’s athletic code, and Pagels said he told Doak his son would be in to talk to him on Monday morning. He did not supply names of other students, Pagels said.

Doak interviewed all the students who attended the party and, on Nov. 17, took the matter to the school board, recommending that all the students be barred from participating in extracurricular and cocurricular activities for the rest of the school year.

The SAD 37 school board voted 9 to 3 in favor of the punishment, with Pagels abstaining and two board members absent.

Angry parents, including those whose children attended the party but did not drink, protested the punishment as too harsh. Others argued that the school had no authority over what students did off school property on their own time.

The school board agreed to appoint a committee of parents, board members, students, teachers and community members to examine ways that students could “buy back” their privileges.

In response to a proposal from the committee, the board voted on Dec. 8 to allow students to begin participating in extracurricular and cocurricular activities if they agreed to attend 10 to 12 hours of substance abuse education and perform 10 hours of school service.

The “buy back”program applied to all activities except athletics. In accordance with school policy, student athletes who drank at the party were suspended from sports for six months.

Those athletes who were not drinking will be allowed to participate in spring sports, but they missed winter sports because try-outs took place while they were still suspended from activities.

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