By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
HILO, Hawaii The Big Island is getting a $400,000 grant to battle the problem of underage drinking and to end so-called "rave" parties that have plagued the area.
The U.S. Justice Department awarded Hawaii County the two-year grant to launch the Prevent Alcohol Abuse, or PAU, program, to be presented today by a host of state and county agencies.
Public health nurse Jan Yokoyama said the Big Island is the only county in the state to receive the grant because of an epidemic of the rave gatherings, where alcohol is served to those under the legal drinking age of 21.
The rave sponsors use two Web sites to advertise upcoming parties.
Police have maintained an ongoing campaign against parties where underage drinking is occurring that was initiated in response to a 1996 auto crash near Papaikou that left four dead. The fatal collision occurred when youths fleeing police who had broken up a large, rowdy gathering at Kolekole Beach Park smashed their car into another vehicle.
Traffic Services chief Randy Apele of the Hawaii County Police Department said 152 of the 1,081 motorists arrested for drunken driving last year were under 21.
As recently as Jan. 18, six youths were arrested during a sweep of Banyan Drive, Hilos top tourist center. In a recent three-week period, police arrested 41 youths for liquor law violations.
Liquor Control Director Jan Pakele said her agency plans to step up its war against alcohol retailers who sell to kids. In a 1999 sting, 32 of 69 stores were caught selling alcohol to minors. Only seven of the stores were cited in a follow-up operation last year.
Pakele called the one-year improvement encouraging.
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