Saturday, September 10, 2016

At Witz End is liable for serving alcohol to a “noticeably intoxicated” Vanderhoof

August 17th, 2016 - A Mentor couple whose house was destroyed after a drunken driver crashed into it has settled a lawsuit against the Willoughby bar that served the man alcohol.

Tonya Blare and Christopher L. Lukasiewicz filed suit in August 2013 in Lake County Common Pleas Court against At Witz End on Lake Shore Boulevard.

Also named in the suit was Daniel Vanderhoof Jr., a 31-year-old former Willoughby man serving 16 years in prison for driving a 1991 Mercury Grand Marquis into the one-story Comanche Trail home shortly before 3 a.m. Dec. 9, 2012. He had been traveling more than 60 mph in a 25 mph zone.

Heather Wright, a Willoughby woman who loaned Vanderhoof her car, was also sued for negligent entrustment.

Details of the settlement with At Witz End were not immediately available.

However, Magistrate Mathew Spangler found Wright and Vanderhoof jointly liable for $1.289 million:

• Tonya Blare’s personal injuries, $17,066.64 

• Christopher L. Lukasiewicz’s personal injuries, $361,740.57
• Christopher N. Lukasiewicz’s personal injuries, $675,072.10

• Cassandra Lukasiewicz’s personal injuries, $135,222.90 
• Homeowner Natilee Blare’s property damages, $75,000
• Tonya Blare and Christopher L. Lukasiewicz’s property damages, $25,000

Spangler also found Vanderhoof responsible for an additional $1.289 million in punitive damages.

Judge Eugene A. Lucci adopted the magistrate’s decision Aug. 12.

Michael D. Murray, attorney for At Witz End, and Blare’s lawyer, Thomas Brunn Jr., did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the settlement. A message left for an owner or manager at the bar also was not immediately returned.

At the time of the crash, Blare, Lukasiewicz and their two children were inside.

Three-year-old Christopher N. Lukasiewicz was trapped under the car. He suffered a traumatic brain injury resulting in neurological, speech and movement defects, as well as disrupted vision, according to the suit.

His father suffered a broken arm and damage to his shoulder. Blare and then-18-month-old Cassandra also were hospitalized.

Damage to the home and its contents was more than $100,000.

According to the lawsuit, At Witz End is liable for serving alcohol to a “noticeably intoxicated” Vanderhoof before the incident. In addition, Wright should have known he wasn’t able to drive when she loaned him her car, the suit stated.

Wright’s landline phone has been disconnected. She had no attorney on record.

Vanderhoof pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated vehicular assault and OVI. His BAC was .172, more than double the legal limit of .08. 


Friday, September 9, 2016

MT family awarded $4.6M in wrongful death lawsuit against bar

ABSAROKEE - August 24th, 2016


The parents of an Absarokee man killed in a 2013 hit-and-run crash have been awarded $4.6 million by a Stillwater County judge who ruled a bar over-served the alleged drunk driver who was under 21.

Stillwater County District Judge Blair Jones ruled Monday in favor of Gregory and Cynthia Dana, who represent Forest Dana’s estate.

The defendant, Hanson’s Five Spot Bar, did not appear at the hearing to contest the plaintiff’s request for damages.

The judge ruled that Hanson’s Five Spot Bar is responsible for the wrongful death of Forest Dana, 27, because bartenders did not verify the age of Thomas Holtz before serving him alcohol the night Dana was killed.

Holtz, now 23, was not of the legal drinking age at the time he was served alcohol by bartenders.

Though Holtz is implicated in the civil lawsuit as the driver of the vehicle that killed Dana, the criminal charges against him were dismissed by County Attorney Nancy Rhode due to issues regarding reasonable doubt.

The criminal case against Holtz, who was initially charged with negligent homicide, was dismissed in February after investigators could not conclusively determine that Holtz was driving his own vehicle when it hit the victim.

Dana was found dead by his parents in the alley behind the Five Spot Bar.

The coroner determined Dana died from a severed spinal cord as a result of being run over by a vehicle.

Video surveillance captured Holtz’ vehicle speeding around town and DNA samples collected from its undercarriage match the victim.

But there were no eye witnesses to the actual impact that killed Dana.

Investigators said Holtz was served at Hanson’s Five Spot Bar shortly before the crash occurred.

Prosecutors also accused Holtz of crashing the vehicle into a tree in order to disguise evidence of hitting Dana.

The victim’s parents recognized in the settlement that the award of millions of dollars would likely not be paid because the bar never provided the court financial documents.

Without those documents, the court cannot speculate as to what is the appropriate amount of punitive damages allowed by law, according to court documents.

The family conceded that the settlement was symbolic, in hopes to deter other businesses serving alcohol from over-serving and failing to check IDs.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Jurors award Indiana victim in Champs Sports Bar fight $7 million


David Widner suffers from a traumatic brain injury he received in a bar fight, which Champs Sports Bar should have prevented, according to a $7 million civil judgment against the bar and its owner, Ronald Shane Mundell.

Tippecanoe Superior 1 jurors decided last month after a civil trial that the bar and Mundell were liable for Widner's permanent brain damage suffered early Dec. 28, 2012. The fight was in Champ's parking lot at 610 South Earl Ave. in Lafayette, according to court records. Widner nearly died from the beating he took and was hospitalized for seven months, racking up $850,000 in medical bills, Widner's attorney, Michael J. Stapleton, said.

Brent A. Dimmitt, the man who beat and kicked Widner, now is serving an 18-year prison sentence, according to court records.

In a video deposition from prison, Dimmitt said, "If they'd had somebody in there to intervene or confront — you know — maybe things would have ended better for Mr. Widner and myself."

Stapleton said the attack on Widner was foreseeable and preventable if Champs and Mundell had taken basic steps for security.

John C. Villines, a security and crime prevention consultant, testified in a video deposition.

"Champs essentially had no security measures in place," Villines said. "They had no written security plan. They had a history of violence and events inside and outside the bar, yet they failed to adequately address these."

Bar employees testified that there were no bouncers and no security plan, and Lafayette police officers testified that they frequently are called there because of fights and rowdy behavior.

Lafayette police records presented in court indicated officers had been called to the bar 155 times between April 2012 and February 2013, and three officers — Sgt. Adam Mellady, Patrolmen Jeff Webb and Charlie Williams — testified that the bar had a reputation for fights and illegal activities.

In the wee hours of Dec. 28, 2012, Widner and some friends stopped into Champs for drinks, according to court documents with Dimmitt's criminal charges.

Dimmitt — who has a long beard, a shaved head and tattoos on his scalp — approached Widner and his friends inside the bar and said he didn't like the way one of Widner's friends was looking at him. Dimmitt told Widner's group he was in a gang and had just gotten out of prison for robbery and weapons charges, according to court documents for Dimmitt's criminal trial.

Widner and his friends decided to leave, but Dimmitt and some of his associates followed them outside, where Dimmitt attacked Widner and two of his friends who tried to defend Widner.

Dimmitt was seen kicking Widner in the head after he was unconscious, according to the probable cause affidavit in Dimmitt's criminal case.

A few minutes after the fight, police arrived as Dimmitt was leading bar patrons outside proclaiming, "I ... knocked him out cold!"

The Journal & Courier attempted to contact Thomas Rosta, Mundell's attorney, but he did not return the calls.

Stapleton said Mundell is appealing the jury's decision and the $7 million judgment.

"We don't anticipate that there are sufficient grounds for a successful appeal," Stapleton said, noting that they unsuccessfully attempted to settle the case before it went to trial.

J&C breaking news reporter Ron Wilkins can be reached at 765-420-5231; follow on Twitter @RonWilkins2