A Cut Above

Underhill Country Convenience Store owner Dale Kowalewski thought he was doing a good thing by cutting up the driver's license of an underage youth who tried to buy cigarettes. That decision turned out to be a bad one.

Kowalewski told one of his clerks that with his license cut up, the boy wouldn't be able to use it at the next store down the road. But it turns out the boy was working for the Vermont State Department of Liquor Control, which was doing a sting, looking for store owners who sell to minors. Now Kowalewski could face criminal charges that he destroyed the youth's private property, the Rutland (Vt.) Herald reported.

Kowalewski and his wife, Monika Fout-Kowalewski, are outraged that he might end up with a criminal record for trying to keep someone from illegally buying cigarettes. Kowalewski justified his actions by saying he came from a small community where neighbors looked out after each others' children to make sure they weren't getting into trouble.

"You do what you can to stop a kid from doing the wrong thing," he told the said last week while cutting meat behind the deli counter. "Unfortunately, the method I used was technically illegal. But does that make it wrong?"

It does, said Bill Goggins, chief investigator with the Department of Liquor Control. A driver's license, even a fake one, is private property. Store owners and bartenders are not allowed to confiscate a piece of identification, and they are certainly not allowed to destroy it, he said.

The best they can do is hold the license while they call the police, but even then the youth could leave without being detained by the clerk. Goggins said he planned to contact the Chittenden County state's attorney's office this week about the incident.
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