CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Should bars be open to 19 and 20-year-olds? Some already are in Champaign. It’s been an ongoing debate for years that is once again getting attention.
“Just because they are able to enter and be present doesn’t mean they are legally allowed to have alcohol,” Mayor Deborah Frank Feinen said.
People are talking about the issue ever since a Campustown hit-and-run case. Police recently arrested a second suspect who was involved – 22-year-old Devin Espeland. He was charged with aggravated battery. Police say he hit a man in the face outside Joe’s Brewery last month.
The case got a lot of attention because of a video that went around on social media. It showed a chaotic scene outside Joe’s.
It happened at closing time. Police say Espeland hit the 20-year-old victim. Then, they say 19-year-old Brendan Trumann ran him over twice. Trumann is charged with drunk driving. Some people feel the bar should be held accountable too. Right now, 19 is the minimum age to enter some bars in Champaign.
We spoke with several people in the area. One woman believes the age should be raised, and bar owners have a responsibility to make sure customers under 21 aren’t drinking. But Champaign’s mayor said every time the idea of raising the minimum age has been proposed to City Council, it’s been rejected. She said there isn’t evidence things were handled wrong inside of Joe’s, and emphasizes the crime happened on a public street.
“Things happen in front of bars all the time. There was an incident on campus in the last week that happened in a spot where there are bars located. That doesn’t mean that the bar is responsible for the incident,” Feinen said.
One man said it just isn’t safe to let teenagers in bars, especially near a college campus. But Feinen said safety is the reason for the city’s minimum bar age. She said students are going to go out and are better off in an environment where they can be monitored.
Feinen said she’s spoken with the police chief about conducting bar checks, especially as students return to campus for the fall semester.