Hearne: Thou Shall Not Overpour; States Crack Down on Bars & Bartenders

When liquor officials conclude the investigation into Brian Euston‘s .387 blood alcohol level, there’ll be plenty of time to reflect and learn from this very sad tale.

Euston, you recall, was the 24 year-old man who died in Westport last fall, following a one-punch altercation outside America’s Pub around 3 a.m. That after a night of intensely heavy boozing. Let me repeat, intensely heavy.

Missouri’s liquor control statute forbids the sale of alcohol "to any person intoxicated or appearing to be in a state of intoxication, or to a habitual drunkard."

Around the country prosecutors and states are starting to charge bars and bartenders serving liquor to intoxicated patrons.

The evidence points to Euston having had a very serious drinking problem. Police say he took a cab to Kelly’s in Westport, spent the night partying with friends who left him and went home and then left the club around closing time bypassing the waiting taxis and heading instead to America’s Pub at the bottom of the block.

With that much liquor in Euston – well over the equivalent of a pint of whiskey – serving him even one beer would have been against the law. How long he remained at Kelly’s and how many drinks he was served while there remains to be learned.

But this much is clear, the responsible sale of liquor to patrons is a serious issue. And not just here.

"Over-serving charges in DUI crash: Conviction changes landscape for bartenders," reads the headline in last summer’s Montana Missoulian.

" Montana’s DUI road map changed on June 16, when a bartender was sentenced in criminal court for over-serving a customer. But what that precedent-setting prosecution might forecast for future cases remains as unpredictable as a drunken driver’s turn signal," the news account begins.

" ‘Without a doubt, there’s been a new standard set,’ " said Col. Mike Tooley of the Montana Highway Patrol. ‘It’s never happened before, to see a bartender charged in criminal court like this. The message here is clear, and it’s powerful – Montana’s judges and prosecutors are apparently very much in touch with the public’s changing attitudes toward DUI.’

The Peanut Downtown took a 45 day liqour license suspension hit three years ago in an incident where one of its regulars passed out drunk, fell off her barstool, laid on the floor unattended for an hour before employees bother to check on her.

Like Euston, she died.

The bottom line:

"You’d be a pretty poor reader of the tea leaves to not recognize that things are changing," said Mark Staples, attorney for the Montana Tavern Association. "I believe there certainly is a wave that has been building, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down."

There’s more…

"Anchorage police warn they are cracking down on bartenders who over serve alcoholic beverages and on costumers who over drink after a local bartender is convicted of over-serving her patron," Alaska’s KTVA TV reported last week. "The law which makes it illegal to serve a drunken person or even be a drunken person on a licensed premises isn’t new, but many don’t realize the act of being too drunk at a bar is a crime."

Police arrested "22-year-old Rumrunner’s Old Towne Bar and Grill bartender Melissa Rae Burttschell," KTVA reports. "When undercover vice detectives conducted a sting at Rumrunner’s in downtown Anchorage back in August, they arrested Burtschell for over serving 22-year old Jakub Burda, when detectives say he was showing obvious signs of intoxication."

"Bars can be held liable for over-serving," reads a MetroWest Daily News headline in Framingham, Mass.

"If police determine that a Rte. 9 bar over-served alcohol in connection to a drunken driving death Tuesday, the bar could face an alcohol license suspension," MetroWest reports. "Even bigger penalties could come in a civil court."

The Peanut disputed the number of drinks it had served to the woman who died, claiming it to be three martinis not three martinis and two beers. But even a single, lowly beer can be a violation, according to the law.

It’s certainly too late to help Brian Euston, but with St. Patrick’s Day on the way it’s certainly food for thought.

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6 Responses to Hearne: Thou Shall Not Overpour; States Crack Down on Bars & Bartenders

  1. harley says:

    more stupid laws
    this is going to complicate things even further. Why is it the fault of a bartender to serve
    someone of legal age a drink. If the customer is too drunk and appears too drunk I can see
    the problem. But is it up to the bartender or waitress to determine the alcohol level of a
    Lets just make al aw that puts a device in everyone’s car that must be blown by
    everyone driv ing to see if they have alcohol on their breath and the car doesn’t
    This is getting so crazy anymore. And remember….what about texting….texting is
    twice as dangerous as drunk driving and where’s all the laws against that?
    Before we know it….even in republican states like montana and alaska the politicians
    want to legislate behavior…….and these guys are for personal liberties…bullshit!

  2. chuck says:

    Utopia can’t be legislated. Dystopia can.

  3. hammy says:

    The concept of personal responsibility
    is lost.

  4. Dui Don says:

    So many variables it is hard to know who to put the blame on. What if somebody sneaks their own alcohol into a bar and chugs it in the bathroom. What if somebody is drunk at the bar, and his friend keeps bringing him or her shots to their table.

    I guess if you can prove that a bartender knowingly overserved someone and knew they were going to drive an automobile, they could be held liable.

    Damn alcoholics ruining the fun for everyone else!

  5. ck says:

    I don’t see how this binge indicates a “very serious drinking problem.” Yes, he consumed far too much alcohol that night, but it does not indicate a repeated, uncontrollable problem. His actions were dangerous, life-threatening and unacceptable, but not indicative of a pattern. Labeling it a problem can be dangerous, leading other young adults to think it can’t happen to them because they don’t have “a problem”.

  6. Seamus says:

    Where to begin
    First, a night drinking doesn’t indicate a “drinking problem.” Second, that Euston took a cab to the bars indicate a level of responsibility that wouldn’t be typical of a problem drinker. Third, bartender liability is a minority position; there are 50 states, and they all have different laws. Fourth, this stupid Montana case you cite has a fact pattern where the bar left the woman LYING UNCONSCIOUS ON THE FLOOR FOR AN HOUR before checking on her. That is not this. Fifthly, your Alaska case is just a sting operation; how it relates at all to death by battery, even while under the influence, is beyond me. Lastly, the Euston case is a sad story. Your hamfisted attempt to make it germane to your subsequent examples does not provide “food for thought,” unless hidden in your examples is evidence of the victim being criminally assaulted, facts remaining as they are.

    This post is nonetheless revealing; it just isn’t revealing in the way you intended.

Comments are closed.