The Haslam Firm

Topless Bar Partially Responsible For Serving Alcohol To Driver Who Killed 4 Teens In Wreck

FORT WORTH – On Monday, a Tarrant County civil jury identified the bar which was partially responsible for serving drinks to a man who was involved in a car wreck, resulting in the death of four teens.

The incident took place on a hot summer night of 2005, when 47-year-old Michael Miles sat in the Harlem Nites Cabaret for 51/2 hours and drank. According to attorneys, bartenders at the topless bar continued to serve Miles throughout the night until he was obviously drunk.

Miles, who lived in Arlington, and father of three, left the bar that night highly drunk and went to a convenience store before he eventually started driving his pickup the wrong way on U.S. 287. His pickup soon merged onto East Loop 820 South as he continued going the wrong way.

Soon after, his pickup crashed into a car filled with teenagers from Dunbar and Wyatt high schools. The teenagers were identified as 19-year-old Jeffrey Muriel Jr., 19-year-old Charles Tate Jr., 19-year-old Donald Cain Jr., and 14-year-old Carl Field who were all killed in the wreck. The incident took place on 7 August 2005, at about 1:35 a.m.

Cain and Muriel were former Dunbar High School students. Tate and Field had been students at Wyatt High School. Tate was also the father of an infant daughter.

After the wreck, Miles blood-alcohol level was recorded at 0.22% at the hospital, where he died.

A Tarrant County civil jury found that F & F Land Co. was doing business as Harlem Nites Cabaret at 9317 South Freeway. The topless bar was negligent and over-served Miles. The jury held the bar 35 percent responsible for the deadly wreck, whereas the remaining 65 percent was attributed to Miles.

The amount of $4.3 million was awarded in damages to the survivors of the four teens, from which the bar was responsible for about $1.6 million. 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.

Bob Haslam, one of four attorneys involved in the lawsuit stated, “Absolutely there’s individual responsibility — he’s got 65 percent of this loss. 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 jury also found that the bar’s owners, Harry Floyd Freeman, who died in July 2010 at age 72, and John David Faltynski, are individually liable in the case. They ran the company as a sham to perpetrate a fraud.

Frank Cram, the owners’ attorney commented, “We intend to appeal, and we feel confident we’ll be successful in appeal.”

According to Haslam, none of the bar’s employees were certified by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It was also found 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,” said Haslam.

Although the bar employees claim that they never saw Miles at the bar that night, his debit transactions confirm that he withdrew $160 from the bar’s ATM between 5:30 and 10:50 p.m. Video surveillance also showed Miles entering a nearby convenience store after leaving the bar to buy a cup of coffee and cigarettes where he withdrew another $25.

The bar’s attorneys argued that Miles went drinking elsewhere before going to the convenience store and causing the crash which occurred 21/2 hours later.

“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.”

A Heineken can was found at the scene of the wreck, which is Miles’ beer of choice.

According to Haslam, the amount of cash found on Miles after the wreck indicated that he had not gone anywhere else. He theorized that Miles may have slept in his pickup during that time.

Based on the police reports, Miles seemed oblivious to oncoming traffic as he drove the wrong way on two freeways. He drove for an estimated 5 miles, barely missing several other cars on the freeway, before he hit a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice being driven by Muriel.

Relatives were happy that the trial came to an end after it had been delayed numerous times. It is finally over and hope that the verdict sends a message, said Haslam.

“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.”

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