Jury finds bar that served driver partially responsible for wreck that killed 4 teens
Jury says business overserved driver, must pay survivors of teens he killed
FORT WORTH -- For 51/2 hours on a hot summer night in 2005, Michael Miles sat in the Harlem Nites Cabaret and drank.
Throughout the evening, attorneys say, bartenders at the topless bar continued to serve Miles, a 47-year-old father of three who lived in Arlington, until he was obviously drunk.
After leaving the bar, Miles went to a convenience store and eventually began driving his pickup the wrong way on U.S. 287 before merging onto East Loop 820 South -- still going the wrong way.
About 1:35 a.m., Miles' pickup crashed into a car filled with teenagers from Dunbar and Wyatt high schools.
Jeffrey Muriel Jr., Donald Cain Jr., Charles Tate Jr., all 19, and Carl Field, 14, were killed in the Aug. 7, 2005, wreck.
Miles, who police said had a 0.22 blood-alcohol level, died at a hospital.
On Monday, a Tarrant County civil jury found that F & F Land Co., doing business as Harlem Nites Cabaret, was negligent in overserving Miles. The jury found that the bar, at 9317 South Freeway, was 35 percent responsible for the deadly wreck, with the remaining 65 percent attributed to Miles.
Jurors awarded $4.3 million in damages to the survivors of the four teens; the bar is responsible for about $1.6 million.
"Absolutely there's individual responsibility -- he's got 65 percent of this loss," said Bob Haslam, one of four attorneys involved in the lawsuit. "But at the same time, a guy makes money off this loss. That's the only reason Harlem Nites -- topless bars -- are there is to make money on alcohol sales.
"No one is saying people can't go to a bar and get drunk, but if you're going to make money on the guy, send him home in a cab."
The lawsuit was filed in 2006 under the state's Dram Shop Act, which allows those who sell alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person to be held liable for resulting damages.
The jury also found that the bar's owners, Harry Floyd Freeman and John David Faltynski, are individually liable in the case and that they ran the company as a sham to perpetrate a fraud.
Freeman died in July 2010 at age 72.
Frank Cram, the owners' attorney said, "We intend to appeal, and we feel confident we'll be successful in appeal."
Haslam said that none of the bar's employees were certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and that the bar did not have insurance.
"These guys are so cheap and so greedy, they don't even buy insurance to protect the public," Haslam said.
Haslam said that while employees claim they never saw Miles at the bar that night, debit transactions show that he withdrew $160 from the bar's ATM between 5:30 and 10:50 p.m. Video surveillance showed Miles entering a nearby convenience store after leaving the bar to buy a cup of coffee and cigarettes and withdraw $25, Haslam said.
The bar's attorneys had contended that Miles went drinking elsewhere between going to the convenience store and causing the crash, which occurred 21/2 hours later.
Cram said a Heineken can -- Miles' beer of choice -- was found at the scene of the wreck.
"We don't know where he went to drink," Cram said. "When you look at the video, he just doesn't look intoxicated in the video."
Haslam said the amount of cash found on Miles after the wreck indicated that he had not gone anywhere else. Haslam theorizes that Miles may have slept in his pickup during the time gap.
Police have said Miles seemed oblivious to oncoming traffic as he drove the wrong way on two freeways for an estimated five miles, narrowly missing several other cars before hitting Muriel's 1991 Chevrolet Caprice.
Muriel and Cain were former Dunbar High School students. Tate, the father of an infant daughter, and Field had been students at Wyatt High School.
Haslam said relatives are happy that the trial, which had been delayed numerous times, is finally over and hope that the verdict sends a message.
"They're happy the jury said, 'Alcohol dealers -- drug dealers -- you're partly responsible for this,'" Haslam said. "Bars need to be responsible. The state passed this law for a reason, even though it's hard to find a bar liable."
Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655