When The Bartender Might Be the Jackass

As soon as  Roger Ebert began suffering a scorching backlash for tweeting “Friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive,”  Facebook shut down his page over the stream of abusive comments.  So it is with keen awareness of the personal risk that I add my own two cents: neither should bartenders.

updated*** We now know many of the details of this tragedy:   Jackass star Ryan Dunn, 34, and his 30-year-old stuntman production assistant, Zachary Hartwell, were killed around 2:30 a.m. Monday morning after Dunn’s Porsche  911 GT3  hit a guard rail on Pennsylvania’s Route 322  before careening off the road and into the woods where the car burst into flames.

Police said Dunn was driving 130 mph, as evidenced by the skid marks on the road.  When they arrived at the scene, the Porsche was already fully engulfed in flames. Toxicology reports confirm Dunn’s blood alcohol level at 1.9, more than twice the legal limit.

The last shot: Dunn seen drinking prior to his fatal crash. Posted on tumblr, the photo has now been taken down.

Prior to the fatal crash, Dunn and Hartwell had spent about four hours with a small group of guy friends in a West Chester, Pa. bar, Barnaby’s of America.  At some point, Dunn tweeted a photo (l) smoking and drinking with two (unidentified) friends, the one on the right, Zachery Hartwell.

Published reports reveal conflicting eyewitness accounts, mostly anonymous, regarding the quantities of alcohol consumed by Dunn. At least one report in TMZ tallied two beers and three “girlie” shots, whatever that means.  Someone else allegedly said Dunn was “wasted.”

The manager of Barnaby’s, Jim O’Brien, confirmed Dunn had been drinking adding, “He didn’t seem to be intoxicated at the time he left,” O’Brien said. “Ryan was not a hardcore drinker, at least not when he was here.”

Spoken more like a lawyer than a barkeep.  I’m not really going out on a limb to say that this treasure of a local bar just outside Philadelphia, called Barnaby’s of America, is currently  at very high risk for getting sued.

Pennsylvania is one of those states that has a dram shop law, named after the English dram, a small unit of whiskey or gin.  Under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop law, a business or individual who gives alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person is legally responsible for any damage that person has caused.  The law is most commonly invoked after car crashes, although fist-fights and vandalism can also be a trigger.

The big question remains: how much alcohol did Dunn consume that night and was he visibly intoxicated?

Who should be held responsible for this fiery crash?

You see, Pennsylvania’s law doesn’t require a toxicology test or even a verification of the number of drinks consumed.  The legal standard is whether someone is  “visibly intoxicated,” showing apparent signs like bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and staggering.

The eyewitness reports could now become more important than ever, determining not the spin cycle of gossip but perhaps a valid court case of who, if anyone, is legally responsible for this tragic crash.

I, for one, will withhold judgment until we hear from witnesses without any conflicts of interest or perhaps placed under oath. In the meantime, don’t kill the messenger if someone else tries to explore who might share moral responsiblity as well.