Deadly DUI Lawsuit – Witness: Man Likely 3 times legal limit

Coroner-elect says Sammy’s workers should have seen signs of drunkenness at that level, but defense chips away at claim.

Lawyers continued to spar Tuesday over whether strip club employees could tell that a man was drunk when they served him two beers just before he got into a fatal car accident in November 2003.

The family of Sean Stokley, who was killed when drunken driver Charles Holland rear-ended Stokley on Schillinger Road, is suing Holland, Sammy’s of Mobile and Sammy’s Management Co. for the teen’s death.

Trial began Monday in Mobile County Circuit Judge John Lockett’s courtroom. Testimony ended Tuesday, and closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. today.

During testimony Tuesday morning, Jim Small, the Baldwin County coroner-elect, said Holland’s blood-alcohol level at the time he entered Sammy’s was probably 0.241 percent, or three times the legal limit of 0.08.

At that level, Small said, he would expect “all persons” to exhibit visible signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, drowsiness or a staggered gait.

During cross-examination from defense attorney Richard Horne, Small admitted that “heavy drinkers” can mask the effects of small amounts of alcohol and that Holland might be classified as a heavy drinker because he testified that he occasionally would drink an entire 12-pack in a night.

The Stokley’s attorney, Desi Tobias, said in his opening statement Monday that Sammy’s strip club violated state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board regulations, commonly known as the “Dram Shop Act,” which requires bars to stop serving patrons who are visibly intoxicated.

Holland testified Monday that he had consumed 12 beers prior to arriving at Sammy’s on Airport Boulevard the night of the accident.

The defense spent Tuesday afternoon talking to a former Sammy’s manager and a training program director about Sammy’s training and zero tolerance policy toward serving visibly intoxicated patrons.

Horne also showed the jury a minute and a half long video showing Holland in the club that night. Mobile police investigator Larry Hearn said Holland exhibited no visible signs of intoxication in the video.

Earlier in the day, Small said he saw the same video and said it was impossible to draw a conclusion from it because the video quality was too poor. While the jury was out of the courtroom, Lockett described the case as a “classic circumstantial evidence case.”

“They have circumstantial evidence that he probably wasn’t (visibly drunk), you have circumstantial evidence that he probably was,” the judge said. “It’s up to the jury to decide.”

Also during Tuesday’s testimony, Tobias and Sammy’s Management Chief Executive Officer Patricia Cantavespre got into an argument over whether to call the dancers at Sammy’s “strippers” or “entertainers.”

Cantavespre, who oversees Sammy’s strip clubs in Mobile, Birmingham, Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, said dancers in Mobile aren’t even topless. They all wear a latex coating over their breasts, then cover the latex with makeup, she said.

By Dan Murtaugh, Press-Register