In Defense of Liquid Joe’s

The folksy, light-hearted tone of the “Gone Fishin” sign doesn’t sit well with Debra Hudson, Oseguera’s aunt.

“I wanted to see that the place was actually closed, and I saw the ‘Gone Fishin’ sign. I took that as a slap. I took it personally. I know that’s not how they meant it, but they should have just said, ‘Closed.’ That just seemed a little big.”

In January 2000 Christopher Oseguera,18, and Casey Dugdale, 19, perished in a fiery crash when their Jeep Wrangler was rear-ended by a pick-up truck driven at 70 mph by Paul Upwall, a piss drunk patron of Liquid Joe’s bar in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Upwall left Oseguera and Dugdale to die, trapped in the burning Jeep, while he fled on foot from the scene. He was apprehended the following day at his home. Another passenger in the jeep, Aaron Sharples, was critically injured, but survived because he had been thrown clear of the wreckage.

The folksy, light-hearted tone of the “Gone Fishin” sign doesn’t sit well with Debra Hudson, Oseguera’s aunt.

“I wanted to see that the place was actually closed, and I saw the ‘Gone Fishin’ sign. I took that as a slap. I took it personally. I know that’s not how they meant it, but they should have just said, ‘Closed.’ That just seemed a little big.”

In January 2000 Christopher Oseguera,18, and Casey Dugdale, 19, perished in a fiery crash when their Jeep Wrangler was rear-ended by a pick-up truck driven at 70 mph by Paul Upwall, a piss drunk patron of Liquid Joe’s bar in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Upwall left Oseguera and Dugdale to die, trapped in the burning Jeep, while he fled on foot from the scene. He was apprehended the following day at his home. Another passenger in the jeep, Aaron Sharples, was critically injured, but survived because he had been thrown clear of the wreckage.

The only thing Upwall’s victims had done to deserve their fate was to stop at a traffic light while driving home from watching a hockey game. Paul Upwall was 100% responsible for slamming three young men into an instant inferno, but the state of Utah is getting serious about holding bar owners responsible for the carnage their customers cause on the state’s highways.

A few years ago I had a scrape with a drunk driver, an obnoxious, raging boar who damaged my sister’s parked vehicle. My experience was trivial compared to what the families of Upwall’s victims had to face, but I can surely understand why Utahns seek to end the nightmare of DUI damage across their majestic plateau.

Any debate over the state’s authority to license at all is undeniably part of the more pertinent and overarching problem here, but I’ll leave that part out for now and concede that Utah is acting within the bounds of the licensing agreement that Liquid Joe’s signed onto with the state. However, holding a business culpable for the crimes of its customers is a perverse way of addressing any problem.

“We need to have rigorous enforcement and also rigorous prosecution so that the licenses of bars are revoked when their actions result in a death,” said Art Brown, president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving.

And it is just this kind of enforcement advancement that some national research shows to be beneficial. A study published in the most recent issue of Advances by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that cities “consider greater restrictions on alcohol accessibility and disciplinary measures for alcohol outlets that violate beverage laws.”

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of blaming the management of a hard partying imbibery for their customers’ behavior and to forget that the true core of the issue goes right back to that of individual responsibility. Are alcoholic beverage distributors also to be held liable since they know, or must know, that the businesses to which they sell have reputations for getting people drunk? Shouldn’t Seagrams know that Liquid Joe’s is using their product to mix up a concoction called a “Mind Eraser”?

Just how far and wide can the state seek to spread the distribution of culpability?

“But tackling enforcement of serving over-intoxicated patrons is much more than a DUI issue,” [Lt. Ed Michaud] said. “When bars and restaurants break the rules and serve too much to a drinker, they also contribute to domestic violence, alcohol poisoning, fights and other alcohol-related problems.”

The possibilities are endless.

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