By TODD KLEFFMAN
LANCASTER — Even though Liquor Mart of Lancaster sold a case of Bud Light to an intoxicated Brett Whitaker just before he killed a Berea couple in a drunk-driving collision, the liquor store won’t be held responsible for the deaths, a judge has ruled.
Garrard Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Liquor Mart, dismissing the liquor store from liability in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Joel Rowland, son of John and Lavada Rowland, who were killed in the crash on U.S. 27 in June 2010.
The ruling leaves the owners of Mariachi’s restaurant, where Whitaker had been drinking before he bought beer at Liquor Mart, remaining as defendants in Rowland’s ongoing lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages.
According to court records, Whitaker, who lived in Pulaski County, spent a good portion of the evening before crash drinking “several Bud Lights and shots of Patron tequila” at Mariachi’s. After leaving the restaurant, he bought a case of beer at the liquor store on his way home “for the weekend,” Whitaker states in a deposition in the case file.
A video from Liquor Mart shows an employee carrying Whitaker’s beer to his vehicle and placing it behind the driver’s seat just minutes before the crash occurred two miles away near the Garrard-Lincoln county line. Officers at the crash scene found the beer scattered around in Whitaker’s vehicle, but were able to account for all the cans, none of which had been open, records show.
Tests showed Whitaker had a blood-alcohol content of .13 percent, above the .08 percent the state considers legally intoxicated.
In the motion for summary judgment, attorneys for Liquor Mart successfully argued that Rowland couldn’t recover damages from the store “because the alcoholic beverages Liquor Mart sold to Whitaker did not contribute to his intoxication.”
Whitaker, 29, was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year after pleading guilty in Lincoln Circuit Court to two counts of wanton murder in the deaths of John and Lavada Rowland.
In his lawsuit, Joel Rowland alleges that both Liquor Mart and Mariachi’s sold alcohol to Whitaker even though they knew or should have known that he was already intoxicated.