South Carolina

Vista bar sued for overserving alcohol, causing motorcycle death

Gainey Lexington County jail

A bar in Columbia’s Vista is being accused in a lawsuit of serving so much alcohol to a patron that he became “grossly intoxicated” and crashed his motorcycle, causing the death of a friend.

The suit, filed by the father of Caitlin Clark, 19, who died in the crash, is against Tin Roof Acquisition Co., LLC, which runs the Tin Roof bar at 1022 Senate St. in Columbia.

“This is just another terrible tragedy of a person being allowed into a bar and, we believe, being obviously overserved and causing an accident,” said Columbia attorney Todd Ellis who along with attorney Jerry Reardon filed suit against Tin Roof.

Tin Roof attorneys William Sweeney and Mark Gende did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The lawsuit is among several similar legal actions in the Midlands in the past year that have highlighted the issue of people leaving restaurants and bars intoxicated and going on to kill someone with their vehicles.

Also in the spotlight is that, unlike many states, South Carolina has no laws requiring bars to train employees who serve alcohol to recognize signs of intoxication. Neither does South Carolina require bars to carry liability insurance for patrons they overserve who injure or kill people on the roads.

Under state laws upheld by the S.C. Supreme Court, bars can be held liable if they serve alcohol to an obviously intoxicated customer who then goes on to kill or injure someone while they are behind the wheel.

“Establishments just can’t continue to serve with a blind eye,” Ellis said.

Some businesses, though, have argued that it’s difficult to tell who is drinking which drinks, as drinks often get passed around after they are bought, and say it’s challenging to tell when someone has had too much.

In the Clark case, a Lexington County man, James Gainey Jr., 20, was drinking heavily at the Tin Roof on the night of Aug. 7 and continued drinking until about 1 a.m. on Aug. 8, according to the lawsuit.

“Gainey, despite being under the age of 21, was granted entrance into Tin Roof,” the lawsuit said. “Gainey consumed an excessive amount of alcohol while on the premises of Tin Roof, causing Gainey to become grossly intoxicated,” the lawsuit said. It is against state law to serve alcohol to persons under 21.

Due to the number of drinks Gainey consumed, Tin Roof employees “knew or should have known Gainey was intoxicated,” the lawsuit said.

Around 1 a.m., Gainey left, hopped on his Honda 2012 motorcycle and went to pick up Clark, a friend, whom he had asked to go riding with him that night, according to legal documents in the case.

After she got on, Gainey began traveling on Saint Davids Church Road in West Columbia “at a high rate of speed,” then lost control and “went off the roadway, struck a fence and hurled Ms. Clark from the motorcycle,” the lawsuit said.

She died around 2:30 a.m. at the accident scene of massive injuries, according to the Lexington County Coroner’s Office.

Gainey was charged with felony DUI. In December, a Lexington County grand jury indicted him for felony DUI causing death and reckless homicide. No trial date has been set.

According to documents on file at the Lexington County courthouse, insurance companies paid Clark’s estate a settlement of $123,614 in a wrongful death civil action against Gainey brought by Clark’s father. Gainey denied fault as part of the settlement, according to documents.

Gainey is currently out of jail on bond on house arrest. He wears an electronic monitor and can only leave his father’s home for essential travel, such as work, church or a doctor’s appointment, according to documents at the Lexington County courthouse.

Clark’s lawsuit could go to trial sometime later this year, according to legal documents.

Last October, a Richland County jury socked a local bar with a $3.85 million negligence verdict in connection with the bar’s role in serving alcohol to a drunk man who several hours later rammed his Jeep into a car, killing 6-year-old Emma Longstreet of Lexington County

“Justice was served,” said Emma’s father, David Longstreet, who with his wife, Karen, their three children, and Kenny Sinchak, a motorist in another car, brought the lawsuit against the Loose Cockaboose Sports Bar in Columbia.

Specifically, the jury found that the Loose Cockaboose was serving alcohol after a state-mandated closing time, and that it had served an obviously intoxicated Billy Patrick Hutto.

Several hours later, Hutto, a repeat DUI offender, ran a red light going 60 mph and slammed into the Longstreets’ car in Lexington County while the family were on their way to church. Emma died later in a local hospital. A law, called Emma’s Law, was passed later that toughened some penalties against DUI offenders.

Hutto is now in state prison, scheduled for release in 2019.

In November, William Holt Carlen, the son of the late University of South Carolina football coach Jim Carlen, was found guilty of a 2012 felony DUI that resulted in death and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The family of Justin Timmerman, 24, sued a Five Points bar, Jake’s Bar & Grill, for allegedly serving Carlen multiple alcoholic drinks while he was “obviously intoxicated,” according to a civil lawsuit. Jake’s paid the Timmermans $975,000 but admitted no fault.

Carlen is now in state prison, scheduled for release in 2020.

In yet another recent case, four Midlands restaurants and bars are being sued for allegedly serving alcohol to a woman who then drove her car “in an intoxicated state” and killed a 21-year-old woman riding in another car.

The lawsuit was filed in state court in Lexington County by Bruce Johnson, the father of Olivia Johnson, 21, who was killed in an early morning crash Sept. 1 on I-26. The suit asks for unspecified actual and punitive damages.

The driver of that car, Destiny Mills, 24, was charged with felony DUI resulting in death and was indicted on that charge in December by a Lexington County grand jury.

She is now free on $100,000 bond. Under a judge’s order, she must wear an alcohol monitor that will track any alcohol consumption.