People around Dallas are understandably shocked in the aftermath of a drunk driving accident that occurred around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, December 13, 2017. For those who haven't heard, authorities charged off-duty Dallas firefighter, Horace Shaw III, with intoxication manslaughter. They allege that an intoxicated Mr. Shaw drove into a Mazda SUV, driven by 18-year-old Alyssa Pimental, after leaving a bar.
Due to the crash, both a pregnant Ms. Pimental and her child, Josiah, reportedly delivered after the accident, died. Isaiah Perez, Ms. Pimental's passenger, also suffered a broken neck in the crash.
Many people are shocked by the accident; they find themselves asking, "How could a firefighter, someone who usually responds to devastating accidents like these and saves lives, allegedly perpetrate this act?" Certainly, this is a pertinent question and one that has gripped Dallas. However, the media glosses over the fact that Mr. Shaw was not the only party potentially responsible for this accident. Simply put, early reports mention that Mr. Shaw had a possible accomplice in this awful deed, a bar.
Is the Unnamed Bar Mr. Shaw's Accomplice?
Let me be clear that I don't see anything wrong with the media emphasis on what happened to Ms. Pimental, her child, and her boyfriend. Lives were lost and ruined, which is definitely the most important part of this incident. It also stands to reason that Mr. Shaw's alleged role deserves a lot of coverage as well. With all of that being said, the unnamed bar's contribution to this horror is demands a closer look.
Assuming that everything reported so far is accurate, it is certainly easy to connect Mr. Shaw's alleged drunk driving to what happened. Mr. Shaw allegedly broke the law and allegedly caused the death of two people and severely injured a third. What reports gloss over in is that it's quite likely that Mr. Shaw wasn't the only one who broke the law that evening.
It may surprise many people, but it's pretty rare in a drunk driving crash for drunk-driving to be the first crime committed in the lead-up to a wreck. More often than not, one can trace the root of a drunk-driving incident to a bar that ignored the law and illegally served an obviously intoxicated person. If every accident results from a series of events, falling in sequence like a row of dominoes, a bar's decision to break the law is usually the first tile to fall.
I know statements like these trigger some folks' "Lawyer Bull-Hockey" detector. Such people likely think, "It's just like a law firm to try to take the focus off of the drunk driver and blame the bar for this tragedy." That's certainly not what I'm saying. Only a fool argues that if the allegations against Mr. Shaw are true that he doesn't deserve to be punished for what are selfish, reckless actions that have cost two lives. But just because Mr. Shaw allegedly engaged in shockingly reckless behavior doesn't mean he didn't have help.
That's why I carefully choose to consider the bar as a potential accomplice. In every other area of the law, people who help criminals commit crimes bear some responsibility for those crimes. Few legal statements are less controversial, which is why we punish accomplices. Simply put, we don't let a getaway driver walk, just because he didn't go into the bank with the bank-robber. Both were parties to the wrong-doing. Shouldn't we hold crashes like Mr. Shaw's to the same standard?
Mr. Shaw Will Be Held to Account: Here's Why the Bar May Bear Some Responsibility
As a community, we recognize that the bar doesn't form a literal conspiracy with a drunk driver to bring about their crimes. That's why the staff at the bar isn't under criminal investigation and doesn't face potential intoxication manslaughter charges as well.
Under Texas law, the (so far) unnamed bar's only exposure is financial. This area of the law is known as the Texas dram shop, or liquor liability law. The Cliffs' Notes version of dram shop law is that when a bar serves an obviously intoxicated person who is a danger to themselves or others, they are responsible for injuries that their unlawful service causes.
People say that the hallmark of a good compromise is that it leaves the extremists on both sides of the issue dissatisfied. By that measure, Texas dram shop law is a fantastic compromise. For folks like me, who think that bars and restaurants that break the law deserve more severe sanctions, monetary punishment seems inadequate. Where else in society can a person engage in behavior that we know is deadly, but not face a criminal charge? On the other extreme are people who think that a bar should never face any consequences, no matter how egregiously they over-serve a customer, because bars are in the business of getting people drunk.
I wonder if those folks could look the Pimental family in the eye and tell them that the bar where Mr. Shaw was drinking did its job? I wonder how they'll react when they realize that while the Pimental's lost a child and a grandchild, there is a bar somewhere that possibly made a couple of extra bucks over-serving Mr. Shaw? Perhaps most disturing is that while Mr. Shaw's case works its way through our legal system, the bar's actions face nowhere near the scrutiny of Mr. Shaw's. It's quite likely they're still slinging drinks this very evening.
As a matter of law, contract, and plain human decency, the bar owed a duty to the Pimental family and Mr. Perez. This duty wasn't forced on them, but part of the deal when they applied for a liquor license and agreed to play by the sensible rules that we have laid down together. The most sensible of these rules is that bars not serve people who are obviously intoxicated. Why isn't anyone interested in whether or not the bar lived up to that duty?
I have to wonder, if the media is so quick to cover Mr. Shaw's perp walk and plaster his mug shot all over their stories, why do they carefully guard the identity of the bar that Mr. Shaw drank at before the accident? I cannot think of any other crime where members of the press protect a potential accomplice's identity in the same way; nor can I think of a compelling reason why this should be so. At the very least, the media owe the public a duty to inform them of the facts, all of the facts. Only then can people decide whether or not they want to support establishments that flout our laws.
At the end of the day, we need answers to two questions: What bar is involved in this accident? And was that bar an accomplice to this horrific act?