Family sues strip club over deadly DUI wreck

Lawyers say Sammy’s bartenders should have known man they served was drunk.

Lawyers for the family of a teenager killed in a wreck are trying to convince a Mobile County Circuit Court jury that a strip club is partly to blame for serving alcohol to the driver who caused the wreck.

But attorneys for the club – Sammy’s on Airport Boulevard in Mobile – maintain that the man responsible for the wreck had only two beers and that bartenders could not tell that he was already drunk when they served him.

The trial began Monday at Government Plaza in downtown Mobile before Circuit Judge John Lockett.

Virginia Dawn Stokley is suing Charles Holland, as well as Sammy’s of Mobile and Sammy’s Management Co., in connection with the death of her son, Sean Stokley, 16.

Holland was drunk when he rear-ended Stokley in the early hours of Nov. 23, 2003, on Schillinger Road. Holland was convicted of manslaughter in 2005 and is serving a 20-year sentence.

In opening arguments, Desi Tobias, the family’s attorney, cited Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regulations, commonly known as the “Dram Shop Act,” which require bars to stop serving patrons who are visibly intoxicated.

Tobias said Holland had consumed 12 beers prior to arriving at Sammy’s.

“The city gives them (Sammy’s) the privilege to operate here,” he said. “But with that privilege comes duties.”

Sammy’s attorney, Richard Horne, said the plaintiffs needed to prove two things: that the alcohol Holland purchased at Sammy’s caused the accident and that Sammy’s bartenders should have clearly been able to see that Holland was drunk.

Horne said Holland was not “visibly” drunk when he arrived at Sammy’s. For that reason, he said, bartenders did not know they should not serve him. Horne said a surveillance video shows that Holland wasn’t stumbling or falling over, and, he said, Holland managed to drive more than 10 miles to Sammy’s.

“We believe that is evidence that Mr. Holland, like many people you know, they can hold their liquor,” Horne said.

He also asked the jury of eight women and six men to put their personal feelings about strip clubs aside during the trial. If they are against strip clubs, he said, they should get their City Council members to ban them. “This is not open season to warp the law to punish topless clubs,” he said.

Tobias said his client is seeking money to cover funeral costs and lost income and unspecified compensation for mental anguish caused to the family by the teen’s death.

On Nov. 22, 2003, Holland, then 25, bought a 12-pack of Southpaw Light and finished all the beer while watching Auburn beat Alabama 28-23 in the Iron Bowl football game, Holland testified Monday.

After the game, he showered, grabbed a coupon for free entry to Sammy’s that he had clipped out earlier that week, and drove to the club, he said.

While there, he sat alone and drank two Yuengling beers while turning down several private dances at his table, he said. He left around 1:30 a.m. On his way home, he said, he fell asleep at the wheel. The next thing he knew, he was driving his Pontiac Firebird at 80 mph and rear-ending Stokley’s Nissan Sentra.

According to testimony from a state toxicologist, Holland’s blood-alcohol level was 0.166 when he was tested a few hours after the wreck, more than double the 0.08 limit for legal driving.

When asked Monday whether the two beers he had at Sammy’s made him more intoxicated than he was when he arrived, Holland answered, “I don’t feel like they made me drunker, but they didn’t help me.”

The trial is set to continue at 9:30 a.m. today in Lockett’s courtroom.

By Dan Murtaugh, Press-Register