Liquor store fined $250 for selling beer to customer who was allegedly intoxicated

December 09, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of License Commissioners fined an east Columbia liquor store $250 for selling alcohol to an individual who was allegedly intoxicated.

The board's action, taken on a 3-2 vote, could have called for suspension or revocation of the license of Owen Brown Liquors because selling alcohol to a person under the influence is a misdemeanor.

The board declined to impose the stiffer penalties because, according to the board's written decision and order released last week, "this incident is an isolated one."

Two board members, Vice Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung and Dennis R. Schrader, called for no punishment. Schrader said he could not agree with his colleagues because it was not clear if the individual who bought the alcohol was under the influence.

"When you're carding someone, you can tell if that person is 21 or not," Schrader said last week. "It's harder to tell if someone is intoxicated."

Gerald S. Gilbert, owner of Owen Brown Liquors for 16 years, said of the decision, "I can't argue with it. It's like any decision in a court of law. You just roll with the punches."

The ruling stems from a July 22 incident during which Cpl. John Newman, a 12-year veteran with the Howard County police, responded to a call about 6 p.m. reporting an intoxicated and disorderly man at the Owen Brown Village Center.

Newman told the board during a Sept. 15 hearing that when he arrived, he found Richard Scott Croco screaming at a group of youths. Newman testified that he could smell a strong odor of alcohol, noticed that Croco's speech was slurred and that his eyes were bloodshot. He said Croco was carrying an unopened six-pack of beer that was still cold.

Newman told the board that Croco acknowledged that he had been drinking in the afternoon. Croco also told the officer that he bought the beer from Owen Brown Liquors and identified Roy Bates as the employee who sold him the alcohol.

Newman testified that Bates admitted knowing Croco was intoxicated when he bought the beer minutes before the officer arrived.

But Bates, who has been working at Owen Brown Liquors for 12 years, disputed Newman's testimony. Bates told the board that Croco did not appear to be intoxicated -- in fact, Croco picked up his change without trouble -- and said he never told the officer that he knew that Croco was under the influence.

The store employee also testified that he sold the six-pack of beer to Croco an hour before the incident. Bates produced a register tape showing a sale of the type of beer Croco was carrying at 5: 01 p.m.

Another employee confirmed Bates' testimony, and Gilbert, the store owner, said there were no other sales receipts that showed a sale of the brand of beer purchased by Croco.

But three board members, Chairman C. Vernon Gray, Darrel E. Drown, and Charles C. Feaga, argued that the receipt contradicted Bates' previous testimony that Croco picked up his change without trouble because no change was returned to the buyer, according to the receipt.

The board members also said they believed Newman's testimony because his demeanor was consistent and he "had no motivation not to tell the truth," the board wrote. Bates, on the other hand, "responded nervously and nonresponsively to questions," the board wrote.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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