The State Liquor Authority has charged the owners of the Depew bar where a Lancaster man was served even after he was falling-down drunk, then got into his vehicle, drove away and fatally struck a teenage bicyclist.
The state is charging the bar with serving a patron who was “visibly intoxicated.” Possible penalties include a fine or revocation of the bar’s liquor license.
The owners of the ForestView Restaurant have pleaded not guilty to the charge, a violation of the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control law, and a hearing before an administrative law judge will be scheduled as soon as next month, according to the authority.
Surveillance video from inside the bar May 3 showed Michael C. Ettipio stumbling to the floor before getting back up and being served another drink.
Ettipio later pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular manslaughter for driving drunk in the death of 14-year-old Bryce Buchholz. He was sentenced in September to 1 to 3 years in prison.
State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski, in handing down Ettipio’s sentence, lamented that criminal charges couldn’t be filed against the bar employees who continued to serve Ettipio and were “equally responsible” for Bryce’s death.
An attorney said the Buchholz family was pleased with the SLA decision to go after the bar owners.
“We’re happy to hear that the State Liquor Authority is doing what we had hoped would be done,” said Christopher J. O’Brien, the attorney representing Bryce’s parents in civil suits filed against the bar and Ettipio.
Authority documents list George A. Peppes as the licensee, but Donald G. Powell, the attorney representing ForestView on the ABC charge, said Peppes is just one member of the entity that holds the license, ForestView Restaurant LLC. Powell did not identity the other members of ForestView.
In a case separate from the Liquor Authority filing, William and Linda Buchholz are seeking $254 million in punitive and compensatory damages against the owners of ForestView and $6 million in damages against Ettipio, O’Brien told The News. They plan to put any award for punitive damages into a foundation in Bryce’s name.
The lawyer representing ForestView in the civil suit declined to comment, while the lawyer representing Ettipio noted his client has taken responsibility for his actions.
“He’s been contrite throughout this whole thing, and I certainly believe it’s genuine,” said Scott Orndoff, Ettipio’s attorney.
Ettipio spent hours drinking with co-workers and friends at the ForestView Restaurant in the late afternoon of May 3, prosecutors said.
Video recorded inside and outside the bar showed Ettipio in an apparent drunken state, and prosecutor Bethany A. Solek pointed out at Ettipio’s sentencing that he initially walked off in the wrong direction before his friends pointed him toward his SUV.
Ettipio smashed into Bryce as the teen rode his bicycle on Lake Avenue in Lancaster, killing him instantly. Authorities say Ettipio registered a 0.24 blood alcohol level – three times the legal limit for a driver.
An administrative law judge will preside at a hearing on the charge and present his or her findings to the authority’s board, which will decide on any penalties, said William J. Crowley, an authority spokesman.
The bar’s owners paid a $4,500 fine after they were charged in November 2010 with sale of alcohol to a minor, according to authority records.
The bar’s owners pleaded not guilty to the charge Oct. 31. Powell declined to comment further.
William Buchholz declined to comment on the authority’s action, but he said he and his ex-wife have sued the bar and Ettipio “to make a statement that this activity can’t continue.”
“Neither one is solely responsible, but together they both are,” he said.
O’Brien, the Buchholzes’ attorney, said his clients are seeking $250 million in punitive damages from ForestView and $4 million in compensatory damages, and $2 million in punitive damages and $4 million in compensatory damages from Ettipio.
O’Brien said he can’t ask for the bar to be shut down but could still get some justice. “I have the ability to try to make sure that Bryce’s death was not in vain,” he said,
The attorney representing ForestView in the civil suit, Patrick Kenney, declined to comment on the suit, while Orndoff emphasized that Ettipio has “very limited assets” and deemed the amount of damages sought as “arbitrary.”
William Buchholz said he and his ex-wife hope to use an award to establish scholarships in Bryce’s name, perhaps, or to build more areas where children can play and ride bikes and skateboards.
The Buchholzes, with a group of community volunteers, have raised $110,000 toward a skate park in Lancaster and are working with local officials to select a location.