Norwich sixth-graders sipped vodka on field trip to corn maze

Norwich - A recent sixth-grade trip to the Preston Farm corn maze went awry when three girls found a small 3-ounce bottle of vodka, sampled the alcohol and were transported to The William W. Backus Hospital as a precaution after another student told a teacher, school officials said.

The incident occurred Oct. 25, when about 70 sixth-graders accompanied by six teachers took a field trip to the popular corn maze on Route 2.

Kelly Middle School Principal William Peckrul said he received a call from one of the teachers on the field trip alleging that some students had been drinking. Peckrul's investigation revealed that three girls found the small "nip" bottle in the corn field and took sips.

Emergency response crews were called from Poquetanuck and Preston City volunteer fire departments and American Ambulance. Preston Resident State Trooper Timothy Paige, town Fire Chief Tom Casey, and Kelly Middle School Resource Officer Anthony Gomes also went to the scene.

The three students were transported by ambulance to Backus and were released. Peckrul said none of the students became ill from the incident. All three students were disciplined, but Peckrul declined to comment on specifics of the discipline.

He said he contacted all parents of students who went to the corn maze.

A second sixth-grade group had been scheduled to visit the Preston Farm corn maze the following week but went instead to a corn maze at Buttonwood Farms in Griswold, Peckrul said.

Superintendent Abby Dolliver said she received some calls from concerned parents and dispelled rumors that the incident was more serious or that the students had brought the liquor to the field trip.

Dolliver said she was satisfied with the actions of the principal, teachers and the school resource officer to the incident.

Jerry Grabarek, owner of Preston Farm, said he has been running a corn maze for the past 14 years, and this was the first incident involving a school field trip. He said he inspects the maze, but it would be impossible to traverse the entire elaborate design, designed to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

He said the liquor bottle was not in a path, but had been thrown into the corn field. It was concealed by the green stalks until recently, when the stalks dried out and withered.

Grabarek attributed the incident to too many students and too few teachers or chaperones. He said students raced into the maze before he could give instructions about staying on the paths and following the design.

He said he doesn't mind student exuberance and said he never had a problem in the past.

"It was an unfortunate incident," Grabarek said. "Those girls were just not thinking. There were too many kids, not enough chaperones. That's the bottom line."

c.bessette@theday.com

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