Why Are People Defending Clerk in Fatal Atascocita Crash?

Jeffrey CarrAugust 06, 2018 5 minutes

Don't sell alcohol to minors. Could there be a less controversial law? Apparently, for some internet pundits prohibitions against selling alcohol to minors is a little more nuanced that most of us think it is.

Allow me a moment to explain what happened. July 25th, a car allegedly driven by the allegedly intoxicated Jagger Smith, 17, crashed in the 1800 block of Timber Forest Drive. In the crash, 2 16-year-olds, Chloe Robinson and Salma Gomez lost their lives. Mr. Smith reportedly admitted to police that he consumed alcohol prior to the crash and was subsequently charged with 2 counts of intoxication manslaughter.

The big question hanging over this incident since then was, "Where did a 17-year-old get alcohol?" The answer may have come to light Sunday, with the arrest of Humble Handi Mart station clerk, Gumaro Munoz Campos, 29-years-old. Authorities charged Mr. Campos with sale of alcohol beverage to a minor and he now faces potentially 1 year in jail and a $4,000 dollar fine. The Humble Handi Mart also faces the potential loss of their liquor license for six months.

Everything in this chain of events makes sense to me and to pretty much everyone else I know. A drunk driver allegedly killed two of his passengers and faces up to 20 years in jail, while the person who allegedly broke the law by selling the kid alcohol faces punishment for his actions. That's why it shocked me to read people defending the clerk in the online comments section of a Houston newspaper.

Is Gumaro Campos' Arrest Just an Excuse to Shift Blame from Jagger Smith? (Hint: No, it's Not)

Surprisingly, there are a fair number of people who think that Mr. Campos' arrest somehow shifts blame for the fatal crash away from Mr. Smith. At first, I figured that this was too absurd a line of thinking to even dignify with a response. Upon further reflection, if people are going to peddle this garbage after such an awful tragedy, they deserve to be taken seriously and refuted.

To understand how anyone can possibly assume that holding two people accountable for the alleged roles they played in a criminal incident, I will try to put myself in the shoes of such people. First, I'll make the perfectly rational assumption that any incident only has a single cause. In this frame of mind, I know that when a drunk driver causes a crash and hurts someone, they and they alone are responsible for what happened. It doesn't really matter who else may have broken the law.

Surprisingly, there are a fair number of people who think that Mr. Campos' arrest somehow shifts blame for the fatal crash away from Mr. Smith.

Extending this way of thinking to other areas of my life, I can see how television and movie viewing will be much less enjoyable. I can't count how many movies where I think that the good guy caught the bad guy, only to find out...wait for it...there was another bad guy. Somewhat annoyingly, the hero always goes after this other bad guy, even though he's not the one who did the thing that started the good guy on his righteous quest in the first place.

Seriously thinking about this new world view let's me see quite clearly that blame for any incident is really akin to a pie. Ideally, some person, the guiltiest person, should eat the whole justice pie, if you will. When authorities start passing out slices of blame to other people, it obviously diminishes the portion that the really bad person receives.

I wonder how this new worldview applies when someone illegally sells a firearm to a felon, who then goes out and murders someone? Who do we punish? Obviously, the murderer committed the more awful act, but one could argue they wouldn't have been able to do so if the person who illegally sold them the weapon had followed the law. How are we to adjudicate instances where two people get together and decide to work together on a crime? If only we had a justice system that could handle such situations. Oh wait...

There's Enough Justice for Everyone to Get What They Deserve...and More Coming in This Case

It's not my intention to further stir up the people who feel that Mr. Campos was unjustly arrested, but there is quite likely to be another legal action arising out of this crash. While no one in the media mentioned this until now, but Texas law also holds the owner of the store financially accountable when their operation breaks the law and sells to someone under 18 who then goes on to hurt themselves or others.

Of course, this area of the law, known as dram shop or liquor liability law, only punishes businesses when the families who have lost a loved one can show that it wasn't just one rogue employee who broke the law, but that the business engaged in practices that did not promote safe alcohol service, such as selling to minors in the past. In some instances, this can be an obstacle for families trying to hold everyone accountable, but I don't think it will be an issue in this particular case.

In 2012, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission cited the same Humble Handi Mart for selling alcohol to a minor. If it turns out that the authorities are correct and this was where Mr. Smith purchased his alcohol, then it marks the second time in 6 years that authorities caught clerks in this store selling to minors. It could be that the store hired the wrong person on two separate occasions, but it seems far more likely that there are not adequate training practices in place to prevent kids from getting booze.

In 2012, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission cited the same Humble Handi Mart for selling alcohol to a minor.

Some may have a problem with holding the store owners accountable, and not just the same people who have an issue with charging the clerk. To their thinking, it's not the owner who decided to sell alcohol a minor. The problem with this line of thought is that it forgets the very large and important role that management plays to ensure that employees follow the law.

I'm sure most people would be horrified if there was an establishment that tried to goose sales by instructing its staff to sell alcohol to whomever walks through the door, regardless of what the law says. Liquor license holders can create the same effect by simply doing nothing and permitting their employees to do as they please. Just as we impose rules on drivers, in order to make our highways more secure, obtaining a liquor license imposes additional rules on liquor stores that don't apply to the rest of us.

It's quite likely that those who criticized the arrest of Mr. Ramos represent a small, vocal minority, that exists outside of most mainstream thinking. The vast majority of people understand that anyone who had something to do with an event that appallingly took the likes of two young women, deserves to be held to account for their actions. Mr. Smith will have his day in court, as will Mr. Ramos. It's quite likely that the owners of the convenience store will have one as well.