The Signal

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Sheriff sounds alarm on teens partying in remote areas

Butte County, South Dakota. Jonathan Kotta/Flickr
Butte County, South Dakota. Jonathan Kotta/Flickr

By J.R. Williams

When the authorities in Butte County, South Dakota, responded one recent night to a report of a large party, they found dozens of teenagers and young adults drinking beside Newell Lake, 10 miles north of the closest town — population 603.

Often when his deputies arrive to these parties, the sheriff recently told the Rapid City Journal, the teens scatter across the rangeland in spite of hazards of terrain and wildlife, such as rattlesnakes. But what’s more troubling, he said, is that many of the teens only have a vague idea of where they are.

“They all run off, and then their phones die,” the sheriff, Fred Lamphere, told the newspaper.

When deputies told one boy he was at Newell Lake, 70 miles from Rapid City, he reportedly replied, “Where’s Newell?” the sheriff said. “He said they just followed the GPS coordinates from a text.”

The article didn’t note any injuries or search efforts to find lost teens in the area as a result, although the sheriff said in one case, “a remote ranch house did offer some sanctuary.”

When a cellphone is your only link to the outside world, that can be a thin strand.

Parents can drive themselves crazy playing the “what-if” game. But while it’s likely the majority of partygoers arrived home unharmed, the story has an important subtext: When a cellphone is your only link to the outside world, that can be a thin strand.

For children in rural areas where help could be miles away, the concern is magnified. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where one teen at the party texts their location to someone else, and with the automatic turn-by-turn navigation integrations we all depend on, an inexperienced driver could easily arrive someplace without paying attention to how they got there.

It shows the ease with which a child could be accidentally left behind or injured in unfamiliar, remote terrain — a situation not easily remedied with a dead battery or misplaced device.

In the case of the South Dakota partiers, the sheriff told the Journal that worried campers are often the source of the reports, and that teenagers are attracted to the parties with the promise of alcohol or a “fight night” between rival communities.

Lamphere said some of the kids placated their parents with the old standby that they were “spending the night at a friend’s house.” Then they headed off into the prairie.

J.R. Williams

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