MESOPOTAMIA - Following drunken buggy driving incidents in which several Amish boys were cited for various issues, including riding on the roof, a contingent of Old Order Amish bishops asked law officials for a community meeting on crime, drugs and alcohol.
''Driving under the influence and drinking while driving apply to everyone,'' Trumbull County sheriff's deputy Rick Tackett told the 250-some Amish and ''English'' residents crowded into the Mesopotamia Fire Department. ''That includes if you are in a motorized vehicle, a bicycle, a scooter, a lawn mower, or a horse and buggy.
''You can hurt or kill yourself in a car just as easy as in a buggy, and the consequences of doing so are fair across the board, whether you are English or Amish," Tackett said. "Any mode of transportation on the road with wheels or runners is considered a vehicle, and the laws of Ohio apply to all residents."
Tribune Chronicle photos / Mary Kay Sly
About 250 people attended a discussion on youth, alcohol, drugs and crime Monday night at the Mesopotamia Fire Department. The meeting was requested by Old Order Amish bishops after sheriff’s deputies cracked down on drunken driving of buggies, noise complaints and vandalism.
On June 30, deputies pulled over a 20-year-old Middlefield man on Bundysburg Road after they said the horse-drawn buggy was being operated haphazardly. Daniel Yoder was charged with consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle and fleeing after a signal to stop.
Three of Yoder's four passengers ran into the woods, deputies said.
The same day, five people were cited on alcohol-related charges after a buggy was spotted with people hanging on the outside and one riding on the roof.
A tow truck was called for both buggies.
Tackett said then that the arrests and citations were part of a crackdown after the office received several calls related to carriage traffic, loud music and alcohol on Sundays. On Monday, he said there are only three sheriff cruisers on the road on any given Sunday in Trumbull County, but lately, one of those cars has always seemed to be in Mespo.
Sheriff's Maj. Harold Firster told the group that the goal of the meeting was crime and drug awareness and recognition in the community.
He said he hoped the meeting promoted ''seeding awareness throughout the community" and that there was more "crime and drug issues in Mesopotamia than residents are aware of.''
Issues discussed by speakers and audience members included marijuana being a gateway drug to other harder drugs, the overuse of and overwritten prescriptions for pain killers and opioids, and the repercussions and consequences of alcohol.
Although the Amish generally do not go to court and do not press charges, Firster said he would do his best to keep an Amish person out of court if they were to call in drug or alcohol abuse tips, theft and vandalism reports, or other crimes, such as things that "just are not right.''
Deputies noted that there is a serious concern over retaliation in the Amish community, with many of the group afraid of repercussions similar to beard-cutting incidents that happened in 2011 over disagreements.
Firster encouraged people to "do the right thing," even with anonymous tips, and told attendees, ''We are all in this together."
Lt. Jeff Orr from the Trumbull Ashtabula Group task force discussed recognizing the "shake-and-bake" method of methamphetamine being produced in two-liter pop bottles. He told people not to touch strange Styrofoam coolers or bottles they may find. The contents are volatile and can "explode like an IED or bomb,'' Orr said.
Teenager Alan Miller said that he ''learned a lot from tonight's meeting about drugs and alcohol." He said he has friends who have experimented with beer and marijuana, and saw the changes in their personalities.
He said he was unaware of the shake-and-bake pop bottles that could be in the woods, and promised to report anything out of the ordinary to his parents and the police.
Several residents had questions about the age an Amish person is allowed to drive on the roads.
An Amish man who did not want to give his name said, ''Children are trained by their parents how to drive a small cart with a horse as young as 7 or 8.''
''English'' resident Clint Fisher questioned the wisdom of this because ''often there is no red flag or placard on the carts, and if he can't see them, there is the possibility that will be an accident.
"Why do the buggies have moms holding babies in their arms, and we have to have car seats?'' he said. ''Why do we have to have a driver's license, plates on our vehicles and have to be 16 to drive?''
Many people agreed with him, and there were several sidebar discussions surrounding these questions.
Mespo resident Shirley Bacon said, ''Beer is a drug. People need to wake up and realize that beer can get you as drunk as hard alcohol and is not an innocent beverage."
During a young Amish person's "rumspringa" time, the young people explore the world outside the Amish community. Often there is loud music coming from overcrowded buggies and parties.
Several residents at the meeting complained that the music reverberates from buggies late at night, and that they find their yards littered with beer bottles on Monday mornings, and are victims of thefts and vandalism.
Bobbi Barnett asked about the curfew laws in Trumbull County. Firster said children younger than 18 have to be in their home by 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and by midnight Friday and Saturday.
Firster discussed how drugs affect not only the person involved, but their family and the entire community. The best place to address and discuss drugs and alcohol is within the family - Amish and English - and that the education needs to start when the children are young, not when it is too late.
Parents need to recognize the physical, psychological, and behavioral signs of a drug or alcohol problem. ''If it doesn't look right, it isn't.''
He asked attendees, ''What can the sheriff's department do to help you?'' He noted if people don't report the issues or concerns, there is little that deputies can do.
Firster and several bishops said they appreciated the amount of people who gathered to improve the small community of Mesopotamia.
''Mespo works together,'' Firster said. ''If we had this meeting in Warren, only three or four people would probably show up.''
The fact that "so many people came together to fight to protect their community proves that we really are all work together better,'' he said.