A law-abiding bar won't serve a patron past a certain point, but it doesn't require stumbling and blackouts to reach the legal point of impairment. After reaching .08 blood-alcohol content (BAC), Texans can't get behind the wheel without breaking the law, and yet the statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that Texas regrettably has more than its share of drunk drivers.
The combination of being the second-largest and second-most-populous state in the U.S. means that it requires a lot of driving to and fro. We've talked before about how certain areas of Texas attract a larger number of drunk-driving incidents, but the state as a whole still boasts some unsettling figures.
Situated northeast of Dallas, the cities of Southlake and Grapevine also seem to attract a measure of trouble with intoxication crashes. This trend is reflected in the area's recent history, but was actually brought to mind by a specific wrong-way crash that tragically claimed two lives.
Southlake, TX: January 22, 2017
At approximately 1 a.m. on Sunday, January 22, a wrong-way driver crossed the center line from the westbound to the eastbound lanes of Highway 114, near Kimball Avenue, in Grapevine. Shortly thereafter, the vehicle crashed head-on into a car headed east on the highway. The impact caused fatal injuries to both involved drivers, who were pronounced dead at the scene. A passenger in one of the vehicles was taken from the crash to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Grapevine with undisclosed injuries.
Authorities from the Southlake Police Department have identified the two drivers as 40-year-old Jeremy Brazzel and 58-year-old Mary Chenoweth. Reports were not specific as to which of the two parties crossed over the center line, causing the crash. Furthermore, the specific cause of that crossover has not been definitively identified. No matter which party may have initially driven the wrong way, the loss of life on both sides is tragic.
The Area's Highways Have a History.
Without suggesting that I have some inside knowledge that confirms alcohol was involved in this crash, I would suggest that its details--occurring on a weekend, the lateness/earliness of the hour, wrong-way driving--are typical of drunk driving incidents. While they are not the worst areas mentioned in the NHTSA's annual report (dense urban clusters like Dallas and Houston have that dubious distinction), Southlake and its bordering town Grapevine see several such accidents every year, especially on the highways that run through them (TX-114 is a major thruway in both). A couple of incidents from the recent past with similar fact patterns spring to mind:
- In April of 2016, a wrong-way crash on Highway 114 in Grapevine claimed two lives. The driver was headed west in a Toyota Rav4 around 4:30 a.m., continuing on errant his path despite attempts by police to stop him. Pursuers tried to get his attention with sirens, spot- and emergency lights, to no avail. Before they could stop the driver, the Rav4 plowed head-on into a Pontiac Sunfire near TX-26. Both drivers, 26-year-old Randell Pinto (in the Rav4) and 51-year-old Thomas Vogt (in the Pontiac), were killed by the crash.
Investigators stated their belief that Randell Pinto had managed to travel 5 or 6 miles in the wrong direction before the wreck. While it was not categorically stated that Pinto was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, statistics show that drunk driving accidents spike between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Much like the more recent case in Southlake, the elements of this situation lead to a reasonable suspicion that intoxication was a factor.
- Reaching back a little further to October of 2015, an officer from the Irving Police Department was seriously injured when a drunk driver crashed into his parked squad car. The officer was performing traffic control at approximately 3:30 a.m. near Highway 114 and O'Connor Road (not Grapevine, but its neighbor) when a silver Jaguar rear-ended his vehicle despite the fact that his emergency lights were on. The patrol vehicle was knocked off the road and into the highway's grassy median, severely hurting the officer inside. He was taken to the hospital with a concussion and several broken ribs. The Jaguar's driver, a Grapevine resident, was arrested at the scene after failing a field sobriety test, blowing a .144. Somewhat ironically, the crash occurred just outside a local building used by the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
While many drunk-driving reports involve some truly staggering BAC levels, it's important to realize that even intoxication just shy of twice the legal limit can lead an offender to lose control behind the wheel.
This is just a pair of examples, but they're indicative of a trend often seen in urban areas. Given their wide variety of bars and alcohol-serving restaurants, cities provide many opportunities to overindulge. The impaired judgment that comes from doing so puts many drivers on roads full of other motorists when they have no business being there. Damaged reaction times and depth perception, even loss of consciousness, are common side effects of too much alcohol in one's system. All can be disastrous behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
Bars Must Pay the Price for Facilitating Drunk Driving.
It's not my intention to point any fingers in this or any other case; every potential defendant must be proven liable, never assumed as such. With that said, I have seen enough reports of wrong-way accidents to suspect that wrong-way drivers are often served far too much alcohol by one or more establishments in this area. Looking at Southlake and Grapevine on a map, it appears there is ample opportunity to get a drink:
I am not accusing any of these specific establishments of over-service in the Brazzel/Chenoweth case or in any other. I'm only noting that the area has many places that cater to thirsty customers.
Requiring accountability from the bartenders and wait staff in such establishments isn't just some persnickety campaign of my own design; it's the law. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code (TABC) and Texas dram shop laws place a measure of responsibility on servers not to provide an excess of alcohol to an intoxicated party--and when I say "excess," I mean that we routinely see cases where a customer was served upwards of 9 or 10 drinks in a relatively short timeframe. In the Lone Star State, a business that serves alcohol to an obviously-drunk patron can potentially be held liable for damages resulting from that intoxication. While occasionally that takes the form of a bar fight or an assault in the bar's parking lot, it far more often manifests as an accident caused by a drunk driver. We are all painfully aware of how seldom that ends well.
While most Texas bars and restaurants do their best to comply with dram shop requirements, others willfully shirk them in favor of larger bar tabs and increased profits. The more intoxicated a patron becomes, the greater his chances of causing subsequent damages while driving. The bar's over-service can be interpreted as a direct contribution to that outcome. As service industry professionals, bartenders and wait staff must exercise a greater standard of care than the average uneducated individual. They are trained in TABC standards to know that if a customer presents a clear danger to himself or others as a result of his intoxication and they continue to serve him anyway, they are breaking the law.
In such instances of negligence, Texas law allows victims and their families to file claim against the establishment that sold the drunk party his last drink(s) of the night. Without dram shop laws, families could lose their loved ones with a subjectively low bar of justice meted out. Drunk drivers could be imprisoned on manslaughter charge, and in that way justice would be done, but the bars that got them drunk would just blithely count their profits and prepare to do it again. Knowing full well the effects of excess alcohol consumption, businesses that readily over-sell it to patrons deserve to be punished. Drunk drivers face consequences for their actions (as they should); it's only fair that businesses who neglect to follow the law are held accountable for their actions as well.