ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — A spring break crackdown in St. Lucie County.
Deputies are on alert, making sure local stores are not selling products that should not be in the hands of minors.
As part of ‘Operation Spring’, deputies had a primary focus for several days of catching businesses selling vape products to underage teens. But, they also found clerks selling tobacco products and alcohol.
WPTV rode along with law enforcement to three stores Thursday, two of which had clerks accused of selling alcohol or tobacco products to minors.
The sheriff’s office used teenagers in its Explorer program to try to make the purchases, with an undercover deputy close by.
“You know the drill: Act normal, go in there, act like you belong there,” the deputy told the teens.
The first stop: The Kwik Stop Food Store in Fort Pierce.
The clerk is accused of selling one of the Explorers alcohol, even after checking their ID.
“I know I made a mistake,” the clerk told deputies. “Your mistake is a crime,” deputies responded.
He told WPTV it was an “honest mistake.”
He was given a notice to appear in court and could face a fine and misdemeanor charges.
“I always look at the ID but this time, it was just one of those days I guess,” the clerk said.
The next stop: Myers White City Food Mart.
There, the clerk inside is accused of selling a tobacco product to one of the Explorers.
“Are you the only clerk working? Did you sell this to a young lady?” one deputy asked.
She told deputies the customer was 16.
"And how old do you have to be to buy tobacco products” 18,” one deputy said. "And you know she was 16 and you know it’s 18 to sell right?”
The clerk did not want to comment but was also given a notice to appear in court.
The majority of stores did comply with the law, including a 7-eleven store on U.S 1.
Deputy Bryan Beaty praised the clerk for doing the right thing.
“You asked for an ID,” Beaty said.
"I did,” the clerk replied.
"And you said they couldn’t have it.”
"And you passed!” Beaty said.
"Yay! I was so nervous,” the clerk laughed.
Deputies hope clerks will remain vigilant and take note from those now headed to court.
“Keep your eyes open, keep your eyes on the ID and make sure you calculate. Use a calculator if you have to,” said the Kwik Stop clerk.
In total, the Sheriff’s Office visited more than 50 stores and said 5 clerks were cited.
The St. Lucie County School District is also praising the sheriff’s office’s efforts to get vape products out of the hands of minors. It is becoming a growing problem in schools.
“The incidence of vaping has increased drastically. We’re really concerned about it. Unfortunately, it’s as young as middle school,” said Helen Wild, Chief Academic Officer for the St. Lucie County School District.
She is confident the efforts by deputies will make a difference in keeping children safe.
The stores who did comply with the law will receive a letter of praise from the sheriff.