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Businesses named in fatal DUI lawsuit

April 03, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The owner of the Yellow Brick Bank on Wednesday rejected allegations that a Martinsburg, W.Va., woman became intoxicated in his restaurant before she got in her car and struck and killed a woman along W.Va. 45 two years ago.

"If there was any negligence, it wasn't on our part," Kevin Connell said.

Connell was responding to a $7 million lawsuit that has been filed against his Shepherdstown, W.Va., restaurant and the owner of another business in the April 1, 2001, death of Tracey Gregor.

Mary Beth Barney is the owner of Ed's Beer and Wine Shop, the second place where Margo Fritsch was alleged to have been drinking before the accident, according to a suit filed Tuesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

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Gregor, 28, and her fiancé, Michael Shoppert, were westbound on W.Va. 45 outside Shepherdstown on April 1, 2001, when a tire blew on their car.

Gregor was clearing debris from the road when she was struck by the car being driven by Fritsch, said police and the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed by Gregor's mother, Judith Bowers, alleges Fritsch had consumed alcohol at the Yellow Brick Bank and Ed's Beer and Wine before Gregor was struck.

Fritsch was sentenced last year to serve from one to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to driving under the influence causing death.

The suit alleges Fritsch drank alcohol at both establishments "to the point of becoming clearly and absolutely intoxicated."

The suit alleges employees of the Yellow Brick Bank and Ed's Beer and Wine Shop knew or should have known Fritsch was a frequent drinker and that they knew or should have known that she was a "habitual drunkard."

Connell said the waitress who served Fritsch at his restaurant did not know her.

"We don't do habitual drunkards. They find the prices are better elsewhere," said Connell, who added Fritsch did not appear to be drunk at his restaurant.

Connell said his employees often attend state-sponsored classes, which help servers identify customers who have had too much to drink.

The Yellow Brick Bank served at least three glasses of champagne and one beer to Fritsch, according to the suit. Connell said Fritsch had a salmon dinner that night.

At Ed's Beer and Wine, Fritsch and a party of friends were sold three bottles of wine and five glasses of wine, the suit alleges. Patrons of Ed's Beer and Wine later said Fritsch fell in front of the establishment as she was leaving, the suit alleges.

The suit alleges that both establishments failed to "flag" Fritsch as someone who should have been cut off from being served more drinks.

A spokesman for Ed's Beer and Wine said Wednesday he could not comment on the suit.

The suit, filed by Martinsburg attorney Laura Rose, alleges the two businesses contributed to Gregor's death "as surely as if they had loaded a gun and put it in the hands of Margo Fritsch."

The suit seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. It also seeks damages to offset funeral expenses, Gregor's hospital expenses and other costs and losses.




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