COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The family of a South Carolina girl killed by a drunken driver filed a lawsuit on Friday saying that two bars negligently over-served a man who drunkenly plowed his car into their minivan.
The lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press accuses the owners of Columbia nightspots The Big Ugly and The Loose Cockaboose of negligence in the death of 6-year-old Emma Longstreet.
The girl died New Year’s Day 2012 when her family’s minivan was struck by a drunken driver as they drove to church about 11 a.m. Several family members and another nearby driver were injured.
Billy Patrick Hutto Jr., 29, is serving 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to assault and felony DUI.
The Longstreet family’s lawsuit quotes extensively from a Nov. 22, 2013, sworn statement in which Hutto detailed the drinks he was served until nearly 6 a.m. the day of the crash. When he was tested after the crash, authorities have said Hutto’s blood alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit for driving, even hours after he says he last drank alcohol.
According to state police records, Hutto was first arrested for DUI in 2009.
The bar owners didn’t immediately return messages Friday seeking comment.
According to his affidavit, Hutto started drinking at 10:40 p.m. New Year’s Eve 2011, partaking in liquor, champagne and beer heavily throughout the night. Hutto described servers pushing alcohol on him and others, saying they needed to “get rid of this stuff.”
“By 1:45 a.m., I was severely intoxicated,” Hutto said.
The bar where Hutto started his evening is mentioned in the lawsuit but not named as a defendant. Walking to a second bar, The Big Ugly, Hutto said he remembered having two beers there before getting in his car around 3 a.m. to drive to a third bar.
“I was drunk when I arrived and even more drunk when I left,” he said. “There is no question that the people serving me the beers knew I was severely drunk and in no condition to drink any more alcohol.”
At that last bar, The Loose Cockaboose, Hutto said he understood the bar had actually already closed but then opened for after-hours customers. There, Hutto said, he had at least three more drinks before going with friends, who drove his car, to sleep for a few hours.
“At this point I could barely stand and was exhausted,” Hutto said.
After sleeping for a few hours, Hutto said he woke up and wanted to get home to get ready for church. Because of his “severe intoxication,” Hutto said he didn’t realize he was speeding and didn’t see the red traffic light that he ran before colliding with the Longstreets’ van.
“My actions and those of the various bars in continuing the serve me after I was plainly drunk and out of control, resulted in my crushing a small six year old child on her way to church,” Hutto said. “If someone had cut me off, refused to serve me in such an intoxicated state or refused to serve me after the bar had closed, it would have made a difference.”
The lawsuit accuses the bars of negligence for serving a patron they should have known was intoxicated and of operating after hours. The family seeks unspecified damages to pay for ongoing medical expenses, as well as consideration for emotional pain and suffering.
Emma’s death has led to a debate over whether ignition interlock devices - which measure a driver’s blood alcohol content before they can start a car - should be required for some people who are convicted of drunken driving. On Thursday, a legislative subcommittee approved the bill, which now moves on to the full committee.
Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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