N.D. has law against overserving alcoholNorth Dakota state law has provisions that regulate how much alcohol a bar can provide a person, but it’s unclear if they apply to what led to the crash that killed Aaron Deutscher’s family.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
North Dakota state law has provisions that regulate how much alcohol a bar can provide a person, but it’s unclear if they apply to what led to the crash that killed Aaron Deutscher’s family.
Deutscher, 34, his pregnant wife, Allison, 36, and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, were driving westbound July 6 on Interstate 94 when Wyatt Klein, 28, Jamestown, hit their SUV head-on with his pickup. He had been going the wrong way on I-94. All four were killed.
Klein had a blood alcohol level at least three times legal limit when he left the Crystal Springs rest area on I-94 via the same ramp he’d used to enter the rest area. He’d had at least 10 drinks at two bars in the hours before the crash.
Tom Deutscher, Aaron Deutscher’s father, said Aaron, Allison and Brielle had been on their way to Bismarck for a family reunion — the family’s first since Brielle was born. The family kept waiting for Aaron, Allison and Brielle to arrive.
“They didn’t show. The only ones that showed up were the Highway Patrol,” Tom Deutscher said. “From the highest highs to the lowest lows, it was the most horrible evening you could ever describe.”
The crash, and its death toll, prompted statewide discussion of North Dakota’s laws and culture regarding alcohol and drunken driving.
North Dakota Century Code 5-01-09 states: “Any individual knowingly delivering alcoholic beverages to an individual under twenty-one years of age, except as allowed under section 5-02-06, or to a habitual drunkard, an incompetent, or an obviously intoxicated individual is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, subject to sections 5-01-08, 5-01-08.1, and 5-01-08.2.”
But this crime, like most misdemeanors, has to happen in the presence of a law enforcement officer to warrant an arrest.
“Bearing that law enforcement wasn’t there, we have nothing to base it on,” said Capt. Bryan Niewind, commander of the Southeast Region of the NDHP.
According to Forum Communications Co. reports, Klein had two beers at DJ’s Bar in Streeter, N.D. at 4 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. he left DJ’s and went across the street to Friend’s Bar. He was there until 6:15 or 6:30 p.m. and consumed five to six beers and three shots of tequila. He took two unopened beers with him, which is not illegal.
Jeff Glodery, owner and operator of DJ’s Bar, said he knows what to look for in an overserved patron after working as a bartender for 17 years.
He served Klein two beers and then Klein left, Glodery said.
Glodery admitted he has given the occasional overserved patron one extra beer.
“It’s not going to do that much more harm because it’s a beer,” he said. “It’s not someone sitting here slamming shots and drinks and that type of stuff — those are the ones you have to stop.”
Wanda Spitzer, general manager at Friend’s Bar, declined to comment for this story.
In the accident investigation report submitted to the Stutsman County state’s attorney, the NDHP did not recommend a case against the bar or bartenders, because no officer was present to witness a potential crime, Niewind said.
He said the law also depends on how the person in question is observed to be handling the alcohol.
“The witnesses we spoke to that were in the bar prior to this crash, they all stated that they did not feel he (Klein) was intoxicated,” Niewind said.
He said alcohol acts differently for people based on a number of factors. Some people could be impaired after two drinks; others could drink heavily for an hour before they show any signs.
Other terms in the law like “habitual drunkard” and “incompetent” are also difficult to define and rely on what the bartender knows about the person in question.
Klein had previous violations on his record, which included a previous DUI charge and two or three minor in possession charges, most of which happened in Minnesota, Niewind said.
However, Klein’s boss, Jeff Enzminger, owner of Double J Manufacturing in Gackle, N.D., said Klein was improving his life and doing very well at his job. He told Forum Communications that someone who frequently used drugs and alcohol couldn’t handle work at the fast-paced business, which manufactures cattle-handling equipment using 800- to 1,000-pound panels.
“It’s a bad thing that happened. I feel sorry for the people that got killed. It’s a very bad deal,” Enzminger said about Klein. “But, you know, he wasn’t a bad guy. He was trying to change his life, turn his life around. He was working very hard.”
Tom Deutscher said more education on over-serving laws is needed.
“I think we need to be pushing it and get our legislators to keep pressure on it,” he said.
No law requires bartenders be aware of NDCC 5.01.09. Bar owners decide whether their bartenders must know the law, said Tom Trenbeath, North Dakota chief deputy attorney general. The Office of the Attorney General regulates liquor licenses.
Digital and hard copies of the law are available when someone applies for a liquor license, but the person who applies is not required to read them, Trenbeath said.
“People are either going to read it, understand it and abide by it, or they going to read it, understand and not abide by it,” he said. “It comes down to free will.”
For a civil suit, the burden of proof is less than in a criminal case.
Tom Deutscher said his family had not even considered that option.
“I’m trying to hold my family together — they are just absolutely destroyed over this. I have not lost a son; I lost a best friend and his wife and kids,” Deutscher said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at email@example.com