A massive party of underage drinkers, mostly from Durango, resulted in a 14-year-old boy being flown to the hospital with an extreme alcohol overdose during Silverton's Fourth of July celebration.
In addition, four citations for underage drinking were issued.
“I spent my whole entire day – 13 hours – dealing with Durango's kids being drunk,” San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad said of Monday's festival in Silverton.
“The issue is: We've become Durango's nursery. A lot of parents think it's appropriate to allow their 11- to-19-year-old folks to come up here (unattended).”
Silverton's town administrator, Bill Gardner, said there were a number of other issues as well, and the chaos may prompt a change in how the town conducts the annual event, which is reknowned for its fireworks show.
“We have to change the culture of July 4 in Silverton,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately, it's too much out of control. It's just not acceptable anymore.”
Conrad said over the past several years, a growing number of juveniles from Durango have gathered at a specific campground near the Christ of the Mines Shrine to drink and use drugs, trashing the grounds in the process.
This year, the group grew to about 160 kids, he said.
Conrad said he made his first visit to the campsite around 1 p.m. Monday to warn the juveniles that drinking and drug use would not be tolerated. He said he returned at least four times, citing an underage drinker each time, including three juveniles from Durango and a 20-year-old from Hesperus. Each were held in police custody until they were picked up by a guardian.
“I went up there to try and crack down on it, but they can't hear you,” he said.
Then, around 2 a.m., officers were alerted that a teen in a yellow tent was “at risk of dying,” Conrad said. Because of the number of campers, and some juveniles fearing that they would get in trouble, it took authorities some time to locate the young man.
The 14-year-old, a Durango resident, was found with a group of girls who were giving him care, and he was eventually taken by Flight for Life to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango.
“The mother was called by some of the kids there and didn't even bother to call an ambulance,” Conrad said.
Conrad said Tuesday afternoon he had heard from the boy's mother that he was recovering. Conrad said he hopes to find the person who supplied the young man with alcohol.
“If I can make example of that person, I'll make an extreme example of them,” he said.
On Tuesday, Conrad walked the now-deserted campsite, filled with trash, empty alcohol bottles, marijuana and human feces. When emergency officials responded to the ailing 14-year-old boy, most underage drinkers fled, leaving their garbage and human waste behind.
And tire marks now scar the hillside of the Christ of the Mines Shrine, which is off-limits to vehicle travel. The shrine, a 16-foot-tall statue of Jesus Christ that overlooks town, was erected in the 1950s to bless the town of Silverton.
The town will hold an impromptu volunteer cleanup Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join.
“This is not happening next year,” Conrad said. “Durango parents need to know this is extremely poor parenting, and they would not be happy to know what their kids do up here.
“This is no longer a family-fun event. It's a ridiculous ruckus, and we need to change our whole event in my opinion.”
Gardner agreed, and recounted incidents on Monday that included a drunken ATV driver who crashed and sustained chest injuries, and another ATV driver, also drunk, who intentionally ran over and knocked down a barricade. Another call to Flight for Life was for a woman who was injured when a drunken driver plummeted hundreds of feet off County Road 110 into Cement Creek.
Thousands of people descend on the small mountain hamlet every year for its July 4 celebration – by far the town's largest event – and although this year saw lower numbers, the carnage of drunken behavior was more prominent than ever, Gardner said.
“It was over the top for our capacity,” he said.
Gardner, who also was picking up piles of trash Tuesday afternoon, said the town's elected Town Council will likely convene to rethink the way Silverton celebrates Independence Day.
“For the sake of public safety and the town's reputation, we can't do the same thing,” he said. “We have to take a good look and see if there's another type of event for Silverton.”