Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bar popular among St. Louis cops settles lawsuit over woman's death in 2014 shootout

ST. LOUIS • Three siblings whose mother was killed in a 2014 robbery and shootout at a St. Louis tavern popular with police have settled a lawsuit with the bar’s owners and a bartender over the woman’s death.

Diana Lawrence, 63, was fatally shot in December 2014 during a shootout at Pooh's Corner in St. Louis.

August, Jody and Charles Lombardo on Tuesday reached a $450,000 settlement with Pooh’s Corner, 6023 Virginia Avenue, in a lawsuit that blamed the bar for Diana Lawrence’s death. The suit, filed in 2016 by the Lombardos in St. Louis Circuit Court, claimed the bar’s owners failed to provide a guard, surveillance or a secure entry system and didn’t prevent armed patrons from drinking.

The suit named the bar, owners Debra and Leonard King, S&K Holdings Inc. and bartender Kitty Bonny. The settlement, approved Tuesday by St. Louis Associate Circuit Judge David Roither, says the three Lombardo siblings will split $267,864 evenly, with the rest going to their lawyers.

Derreaun Davis, Corey Wade and at least one other man burst in shortly before 11 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2014, and ordered everyone to the floor, police said. One robber fired a shot into the ceiling and a shootout followed.

Lawrence, 63, was hit in the head and died the next day. Three others, including retired St. Louis Officer Danny Atkins, were wounded.

Atkins had been drinking at the bar and shot and wounded Davis and Wade, who are now serving two consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole.

The suit claimed Atkins was “visibly intoxicated” and that Pooh’s should not have served him knowing he was armed. Debra King has credited Atkins with saving lives, saying in 2014: “I do believe had he not been there, everyone would be dead.”

The suit also claimed Bonny, the bartender, went for her gun under the bar, contributing to what the Lombardos’ lawyer Matt O’Grady called a “wild-west shootout.”

Police were called to the bar 44 times from 2004-14 for incidents including thefts, fights, burglary, assault and arson, the suit claimed. It also claimed an attempted holdup in 2008, when Atkins was bartending and shot one of two robbers.

Jody Lombardo is the mother of Nicholas Gilbert, 27, who died in police custody in December 2015 after struggling with St. Louis officers in a holding cell at the department’s Central Patrol Division. She and the man’s father have a pending federal lawsuit against the city over that, claiming the department and 10 officers were responsible for Gilbert’s death.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Phila. Jury Awards $9.7M in Fatal Motorcycle Club Brawl

A Philadelphia jury has awarded nearly $10 million to the family of a woman killed during a scuffle with members of a motorcycle club outside of a Reading-area restaurant.

According to court records, a jury last week awarded $9.7 million to the estate of Tonya Focht, who had been fatally struck by an SUV during a melee that occurred in June 2015. The fight involved several members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club.

Although the club had been one of several defendants sued, the club had been let out of the case at the end of trial after it filed a motion for compulsory nonsuit. That decision has been appealed.

McLaughlin & Lauricella attorney Slade McLaughlin, who is representing Focht, said the case was unique because it had to be tried in the Criminal Justice Center, rather than City Hall, for security reasons. He also said he plans to continue to pursue liability against the motorcycle club.

“The client will not have achieved full justice until the Iron Order Motorcycle Club (which is responsible for the actions of its members) is held accountable and liable for the death of Tonya Focht,” McLaughlin said in a statement. “We have filed post-trial motions this week … and we will see this case through all appeals to the very end. The client’s needless death deserves nothing less.”

Brian Grady of Elliott Greenleaf, who represented the Iron Order Motorcycle Club, said there was no evidence that the club had anything to do with the fight.

“The judge was right on the money with the law. We’re extremely comfortable with the rulings he made,” Grady said.

According to the pretrial memo of Brenda Bollinger, who is the administrator of Focht’s estate, on June 19, 2015, Focht and her fiance arrived at Anna’s Bar-B-Q Pit near Reading to meet friends for dinner. The memo said several members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club began to accost them verbally and physically. Although the two attempted to leave, the members followed them into the restaurant’s parking lot where the conflict escalated, the memo said.

The memo said Focht’s fiance was wrestled to the ground where the members of the club began to “pummel” him. Focht tried to help her fiance, but one of the club members named Timothy Martin allegedly punched her in the face, which knocked her backward and into the side of a moving SUV, the memo said. According to the memo, the vehicle crushed Focht’s skull.

Focht’s estate sued the restaurant on alleged negligence and dram shop violations. She also sued the Iron Order Motorcycle Club and several members of the club involved in the fight on claims that they were negligent and reckless. The plaintiff also made wrongful death and survivorship claims.

The memo noted that, at the time of her death, Focht was a stay-at-home mother of two minor children, and was studying to be a mental health professional. The memo also said the plaintiff’s medical expert, Wayne Ross, planned to testify that Focht was conscious when the vehicle ran over her head, and that she remained alive for a few minutes afterward.

According to court records, Anna’s Bar-B-Q Pit joined Focht’s fiance and the SUV driver into the lawsuit. However, according to court records, Anna’s Bar-B-Q Pit entered an undisclosed settlement prior to trial.

In its pretrial memo, the Iron Order Motorcycle Club contended that Focht’s fiance had instigated previous altercations with its members, and that Focht and her fiance had instigated the fight that resulted in Focht’s death. The memo also said it has little control over its local chapters regarding who can become a member and how the chapters are run, or managed.

A pretrial memo filed by defendants Douglas and Laree Gottschall, who are Iron Order members involved in the fight, also said Focht’s fiance had instigated the fight. The memo further said Focht’s fiance punched Laree Gottschall, who is Douglas Gottschall’s wife, in the face during the fight, and that both were not near Focht when she was knocked into the SUV. The memo also said Focht punched Martin several times before he struck her.

At the time the trial ended, Martin and the Gottschalls were the only defendants on the verdict sheet. A default judgment had also been entered against Martin.

The jury found them liable and awarded $3.7 in compensatory damages, as well as $2 million on the wrongful death claim and $1.7 million on the survival claim. The jury also found Martin 50 percent liable, and each Gottschall 25 percent liable.

Stephen Scheuerle of Hohn & Scheuerle, who represented Anna’s Bar-B-Q Pit, and Daniel Rucket of Rawle & Henderson, who represented the Gottschalls, each did not return a call for comment. Martin did not have an attorney during trial and The Legal was unable to find contact information for him.