Sammy’s Hit for $2.8M

Jurors returned a $2.8 million verdict Wednesday against a Mobile strip club because it served beer to a man who was already drunk, then he caused a fatal wreck.

The unanimous verdict indicated that the jury of eight women and six men believed the plaintiff’s case; that Sammy’s on Airport Boulevard in November 2003 served two Yeungling beers to Charles Holland even though employees could see he was drunk and that those two beers led Holland to crash into and kill 16-year-old Sean Stokley.

Sean’s mother, Valerie Dawn Stokley of the Wilmer area, said the Mobile County Circuit Court verdict will make bars think twice about providing alcohol to drunken patrons.

“That’s the point of this whole thing, to send a message to Sammy’s and other establishments like Sammy’s,” she said.

Richard Horne, the attorney for Sammy’s, said his client will appeal. Because of the amount, the appeal will go directly to the Alabama Supreme Court, he said.

Valerie Stokley sued Holland, Sammy’s of Mobile and Sammy’s Management Co., which oversees strip clubs in Mobile, Birmingham, Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

The jury brought back a guilty finding against Holland and Sammy’s of Mobile, but acquitted Sammy’s Management Co.

Sammy’s Management had argued during the three-day trial that only one of its employees, a manager, was at the club on the night in question.

Holland was convicted last year on a manslaughter charge and is serving a 20-year prison sentence, so the family will be seeking the $2.8 million judgment from Sammy’s, said Valerie Stokley’s attorney, Desi Tobias.

The case involved Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board rules, known as the “Dram Shop Act,” that make it illegal for bars to serve patrons who appear to be intoxicated.

During the trial, Holland testified that he drank a 12-pack of Southpaw Light while watching an Auburn-Alabama football game on Nov. 22, 2003, then drove to Sammy’s. After drinking two beers over about an hour, he drove home, fell asleep at the wheel and slammed his Pontiac Firebird at 80 mph into Stokley’s Nissan Sentra, according to authorities.

During closing arguments Wednesday morning, Horne said the plaintiffs had not shown any evidence that Holland was visibly drunk when he entered Sammy’s. Holland was a heavy drinker who could hold his liquor, and the club’s employees simply didn’t realize he was intoxicated, Horne said.

“Sympathy for the family does not supplant law and facts,” Horne said.

Mike Windom, another attorney for Valerie Stokley, told jurors that they needed only to use common sense to realize that Holland would have looked drunk. “When someone drinks a 12-pack of beer, they’re going to appear intoxicated,”he said.

By Dan Murtaugh, Press-Register