Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection has opened an investigation into a possible violation of the Liquor Control Act at Diesel Lounge. The New Haven bar is under investigation for allegedly serving alcohol to a woman accused of causing a fatal hit-and-run crash in July.
New Haven police say 18-year-old Christopher Franko was killed after the scooter he was driving was hit on the Tomlinson Bridge. His 15-year-old passenger was rushed to the hospital in critical condition the night of July 26th.
According to court documents, an eye witness noticed damaged on the front end of Judy Gomez’s car and notified police. When officers caught up to the 55-year-old East Haven woman they smelled the strong odor of alcohol and vomit on her, according to the police report.
Officers stated that her front windshield had shattered onto Gomez’s arms and torso. Officers also said she seemed confused and told police that she thought she’d hit someone and pulled over to call her sister. Responding officers had to use Narcan on Gomez after she started having trouble breathing.
The police report also says that Gomez admitted to police that she had been drinking at Diesel Lounge in New Haven before the incident. She told officers she had three Long Islands and a shot of Patron, according to the report.
Department of Consumer Protection, which approves liquor licenses, is looking into whether the establishment violated its rules by overserving Gomez. An establishment found in violation could be ordered to come into compliance, pay a fine, or have its liquor license suspended. A spokesperson for the agency says details about the investigation won’t be released until after it is complete.
Bar owners and bartenders have a legal responsibility not to overserve their patrons and in Connecticut, they can be subject to a civil lawsuit under the Dram Shop Act.
“If you serve someone who is obviously intoxicated, you’re not supposed to do that. If you do and that in turn leads to some third party being injured, then that’s on you,” explained defense attorney John Williams.
Franco’s family won’t say whether they’re suing the bar, but his brother says Diesel Lounge has been less than cooperative. Carlos Granda says he doesn’t believe the bar owner’s claim that video of Gomez drinking at Diesel Lounge does not exist.
“They owe us help. That’s what they owe us. I don’t necessarily owe us money or anything. I just want them to help us,” said Granda.
Williams, who is not connected with the case, says the bar’s culpability may be difficult to prove.
“That is a very subjective kind of a test and all that’s really expected is good faith,” Williams explained. “Unless there’s some solid reason to believe that the bar owner served an obviously intoxicated person before the accident, then I would say the bar owner doesn’t have a lot to worry about.”
Williams says state investigators may look for someone who was at the bar at the same time as Gomez.
“You’d almost have to have another person, who was a witness, somebody that was in the bar and saw what was going on and could testify,” he explained.
Down the block from Diesel Lounge, the owner of JR Dempsey bar, Dennis Beaulieu, says he’s constantly calling his customers a ride home, but adds that it’s not always obvious when a patron is intoxicated. He says serving an extra drink to a customer isn’t worth the risk of and he doubts it was worth it to his neighbor.
“It’s a tough responsibility to put on someone that say, ok you’re responsible for the 900 people who walk through your establishment this week, when really you can do your best but people have to police them themselves and be responsible,” Beaulieu said. “It has everyone shaken. I’m sure that those guys didn’t do that on purpose and I’m sure that wasn’t there intention either,” he said.
As Franko’s family tries to come to terms with his death, Granda says their fight is just beginning.
“Everybody’s trying to cover themselves instead of seeking justice,” said Carlos Granda. “I believe they have some responsibility because if you see someone drunk you cannot keep serving them liquor.”
Gomez faces charges of felony evading and manslaughter with a motor vehicle. NBC Connecticut News reached out to her attorney as well as Diesel Lounge, but did not hear back.