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In Haverford, young lemonade peddlers have brush with the law

The call came in at 7:06 p.m. Juveniles, seven of them, on a quiet residential street, selling an uncontrolled substance: lemonade.

The call came in at 7:06 p.m. Juveniles, seven of them, on a quiet residential street, selling an uncontrolled substance: lemonade.

A neighbor had dimed them out, and a Haverford Township police officer responded in a hurry.

When he arrived at the two-story brick house on Maryland Avenue, he dutifully informed Dana Kleinschmidt, mother of four of the reputed offenders, who included 5-year-old triplets, that they were violating the law. They were selling lemonade without a permit.

Kleinschmidt was nonplussed. She told the children to cease and desist, but the law was news to her - and evidently to the rest of the township's police department.

"We all sold lemonade when we were kids," said John F. Viola, the deputy chief of police. "We all went, like, who calls [police] on kids?"

As it turns out, according to Viola, the officer's visit was a misunderstanding that finally was left to Sgt. Joe Hagan to straighten out.

For 12 years, Hagan acknowledged, he has patrolled the streets of Haverford buying lemonade, paying the kids a buck and surreptitiously not drinking it. It never occurred to him that he was aiding and abetting law-breakers.

Legality became an issue on July 10, when William Nickerson called to complain that neighborhood children were peddling the stuff. Nickerson said they were going house-to-house ringing doorbells, and he didn't think they were being properly supervised by adults. "I'm not being Scrooge," he said.

The responding officer - who was unavailable, whom Viola would not identify, and whose name and badge number were blacked out of the police report - invoked a township ordinance against vending without a permit. What the officer didn't realize, Viola said, is that the law doesn't apply to anyone younger than 16.

"The police officer would have no way of knowing this on the street," Viola said. "He acts on information he has available."

Kleinschmidt, who didn't want to discuss it yesterday, was upset by the visit, as was her 8-year-old son.

Viola didn't find out about the incident until he read Kleinschmidt's Monday afternoon post on "My children were crying," Kleinschmidt wrote. Word of the episode rippled through the township, and Viola said he knew he had a public relations "nightmare" on his hands. Enter Hagan.

Hagan, who has an 8- and a 12-year-old, volunteered to meet with the seven kids, and explained to them that they had done nothing wrong, that they could sell lemonade from now till the first frost with impunity. One of the triplets hugged him.

That put the lemonade issue to rest - almost.

"I stopped home for lunch that day," he recalled, "and my kids said, 'We want to do a lemonade stand.' I said, 'Absolutely not!' "