MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Spring break has sprung on the Grand Strand.

The annual influx of visitors — many of them high school and college students who aren’t yet 21 — means authorities are increasingly on the lookout for underage drinking and bars and businesses that serve alcohol to minors.

Rick O’Neil, a Myrtle Beach attorney and former police officer knows exactly how the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division handles alcohol investigations.

They’ll usually send in someone under 21, maybe a police explorer scout or someone in the criminal justice program in college,” O’Neil said. “They’ll send them in with their valid ID, and they’re obviously underage and they’ll just check. They’ll go in and ask for a drink, and if they’re served, the SLED agents are there. Bam. And they’ll make charges” 

It’s a busy time of year for SLED, O’Neil said.

“From Mardi Gras, St. Patricks Day, and then culminating with Easter weekend, SLED usually has saturation patrols,” he said. “Sometimes Mr. Jimmy Richardson has a team where they go out and concentrate on just alcohol-related offenses.” Richardson is the 15th Circuit Solicitor.

Alcohol charges have very serious implications for minors, O’Neil said. A criminal record can affect a young person’s education and future employment.

The charges are also serious for those who provide minors with alcohol, he said.

“Not only a criminal charge against the bartender, but they can also take an administrative action against the licensee, the bar itself,” O’Neil said. “And if they have a pattern, they can lose their liquor license to sell.”

O’Neil also noted that any adult or business that serves an underage drinker who is involved in a car crash can be held responsible under the state’s civil laws. 

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Claire Purnell is a multimedia journalist at News13. Claire is from Louisville, Kentucky. Claire joined the News13 team in January 2023 after graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder in December 2022. Follow Claire on Twitter and read more of her work here.