LEWISTON – Alcohol and proms go together like gowns and tuxedoes.
Not if local police and school officials can help it.
Lewiston High School prom-goers will face a new alcohol sensor that can detect whether they’ve been drinking.
“We want them to have fun, but do it safely,” said police Officer Roger Landry, who is assigned to the high school. The Passive Alcohol Sensor can be waved over a drink, in the air or near a person. It lights up when alcohol is present.
Lewiston and Edward Little high schools are holding their proms this weekend. Officials in both cities are taking steps to keep drugs and alcohol away.
Officers of the Lewiston-Auburn-Lisbon Underage Drinking Police Response Team will be assigned to the parking lot of the Ramada Inn, where the proms will take place. Inside, two uniformed officers, along with principals and teachers, will monitor.
Lewiston officials hope the alcohol sensor will step up detection and deter drinking, said Assistant Principal Paul Amnott.
The pocket-sized device cost $349. It can be used to measure alcohol in the blood, but its strongest point is that it shows, within 5 to 7 feet, when alcohol is present.
Any student caught with alcohol or deemed to have consumed alcohol would face a suspension of between five and 10 days, and a legal fine of several hundred dollars. Parents would be called to ensure the student did not drive, Landry said.
Amnott, who will have the sensor at Saturday night’s prom, declined to say whether all students or only those who appeared to have been drinking would be tested.
He’s tried the device at home. It works well, he said.
“Saturday afternoon I made my wife a drink. She took a sip,” he said. He turned on the sensor and asked his wife to say her name. The machine lit up.
Some things, such as mouthwash, certain perfumes and cough drops could give false positive readings, Amnott said. For that reason anyone who tested positive would be pulled aside and re-tested in 15 to 20 minutes. By then any alcohol traces in personal products would not be present, he said. “We want to make sure it’s an accurate reading.”
Meanwhile, rumors about the sensor have spread.
“We’ve been running announcements saying, The rumors are true. This is going to be there. You will be facing consequences,'” said Vicky Wiegman, Lewiston’s substance-abuse counselor. “They needn’t be afraid if they’re abiding by the law.”
Lewiston officials have sent letters to parents warning that hosting underage drinking parties is illegal, and that the sensor would be used at the prom. Wiegman said she was “braced for an onslaught of calls” from parents. So far, no calls and no complaints, she said.
Landry said he hopes no one gets a summons Saturday night. Weigman said she tells students she wants to keep them alive.
“I tell them that I get the calls at home: We’ve got a kid who died in a crash. We need you to come in to talk to kids. The school’s going to be open.'”
“We’ve all gotten those calls,” Amnott agreed. A lot of students falsely believe they’re invincible, an accident could never happen to them, he said.
They don’t want chairs draped with black at graduation. “We don’t want to see parents have to come in and clean out the locker for their son or daughter,” he said.