Thursday, February 15, 2018

Former prosecutor, bars settle in crash lawsuit

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A settlement has been reached in the lawsuit against former Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Josh Kuiper and the Grand Rapids bars where he allegedly drank before crashing his car into a parked vehicle, injuring its owner.

The suit named The Waldron Public House, which is the former McFadden’s; Luna, a Latin restaurant next door; and J. Gardella’s, which is down the street, as defendants.

The suit was filed on behalf of Daniel Empson who was injured Nov. 19, 2016, when Kuiper drove the wrong way down Union Avenue SE and struck Empson’s parked car head-on. Empson said he was thrown to the ground and claims he suffered a fractured shoulder as a result.

Empson’s attorney, Brian Molde, announced the suit last fall, saying there had been a half-dozen depositions collected from people who witnessed Kuiper’s actions the night of the crash, starting at The Waldron House, where he was attending a retirement party for retiring prosecutor Bill Forsyth. The suit claimed Kuiper then moved on to the other bars named in the suit.

None of the five attorneys involved will now talk about the suit, likely because of a nondisclosure agreement. As a result, the terms of the settlement are not known.

The criminal case against Kuiper continues with a hearing planned in May. He faces charges of reckless driving causing serious injuring and a moving violation causing serious injury.

He does not face drunken driving charges, however, because police didn’t give him a breathalyzer at the scene or take him for a blood test.

In phone calls, the lieutenant on duty, the first officer on the scene and a sergeant discussed how to avoid giving Kuiper a breathalyzer and downplay the role of alcohol in reports. They didn’t think those calls were being recorded, but they were and were released to the public last autumn.

As a result of the way they handled the crash, the lieutenant lost his job, the sergeant was suspended and demoted, and the first officer on the scene was also disciplined.

Kuiper resigned from the prosecutor’s office and is now in private practice.


Monday, February 12, 2018

Four Houston nightclubs sued over man's death, another shuttered by Harris County

An unlicensed southeast Houston club that police say was the scene of a shooting last month was ordered to temporarily close after the Harris County Attorney's Office won a restraining order against it Friday.

In a separate, civil lawsuit also filed in Harris County on Friday, the family of a man who was fatally shot in an unlicensed bar in west Houston is demanding more than $1 million from the property owner and various club managers, whom they accuse of negligence that contributed to their family member's killing.

The two actions come amid an increased push by local authorities to close illegal, after-hours clubs, which Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan describes as being hotbeds for assaults, murders, prostitution and drug-trafficking, among other crimes.

Alberth Sinisterra was shot multiple times inside one of the clubs operating out of three suites at 9275 Richmond Ave. on Sept. 24, court and police records show.

He was among the at least 50 people that have died since 2010 in outbreaks of violence at Houston-area clubs operating without liquor licenses or after 2 a.m. at licensed clubs that were later closed, sued or fined for selling alcohol during prohibited hours, a Houston Chronicle investigation of police, court and state records found.

In a restraining order filed Friday, the Harris County Attorney's Office accuses Bukanitas of selling liquor without a state license — including to minors and after 2 a.m., when such sales are prohibited in Texas.

The club's location, at 11555 Fuqua, has not had a permit to sell alcohol since January 2017, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records show.

On Jan. 27, Houston police officers conducted an investigation of the club after a shooting there the night before, according to court records. During the investigation, police said they found as many as 100 people inside, as well as tables with buckets of beer and liquor bottles behind a bar.

On Feb. 3, HPD officers conducted another investigation into the club for selling alcohol to minors, during which a bouncer locked the club’s door and refused to allow officers inside, court records show.

The bouncer claimed he was instructed by a bar manager to lock officers out, court records show. The bouncer also told officers he did not know the name of the manager who’d instructed him to do so, court records show. Neither bar management nor the owners of the property, Amani Investments and HSC Management, LLC, could be reached for comment Friday.

Read more: 50 people have died at illegal Houston clubs. What stops officials from closing them?

Wrongful death

In their lawsuit filed Friday, Sinisterra’s family demands more than $1 million in damages from the managers of four now-shuttered clubs, as well as Wonsong Investment Company, which owns the property at 9275 Richmond.

The clubs — listed in court records as Blush Lounge, Allure Lounge, Village Gang Nightclub and ALAA — were closed last year after the office of Vince Ryan, the county attorney, filed a restraining order against them for, among other things, selling alcohol without licenses, court records show.

The clubs were operating out of three suites in a strip mall, where police responded to dozens of calls for violent crime over a 12-month period, police logs show. Among the outbreaks were Sinisterra’s death inside one club and a non-fatal shooting in the parking lot on July 30, police and court records show.

Sinisterra’s family claims that the club managers and property owner “had a duty to not operate after legally established business hours and, at the very least, to provide adequate security.”

Jack Fuerst, an attorney who represented Blush Lounge in the suit filed by Ryan’s office, said Friday that he was unaware of the wrongful death suit, but maintained — as he did last year —that his former client never sold alcohol and was being blamed for the actions of neighboring clubs.

“It was a bad scene,” Fuerst said Friday.

Read more: 'No one leaves sober,' advertised illegal Houston bar now facing closure

Court records show Blush Lounge had advertised online that it was selling alcohol, though Fuerst previously told the Chronicle that those advertisements were posted by rival clubs in an attempt to frame his client.

Miles Cohn, an attorney who represented Wonsong Investment Company, said Friday he was unaware of the wrongful death suit, but said his former client had evicted the clubs and adopted new leasing policies that allow for bad-acting tenants to be removed more quickly.

The other defendants in the wrongful death suit could not be reached for comment Friday.

The fight to stem the spread of illegal clubs has been complicated by the internet and what some officials say are lax penalties for operating off-the-books clubs, often at a huge profit for landlords and tenants.

Before social media and the internet, club managers had to rely on word-of-mouth to recruit devoted, often underage patrons. Today, they can use anonymous, online aliases to mobilize their followings to establishments across the city.

Restraining orders, meanwhile, are effective for shuttering single locations. But in some instances, managers of bars closed by law enforcement simply open new establishments under the names of family or friends.

Landlords, meanwhile, often claim they are unaware clubs are unlicensed or selling alcohol after hours. Sometimes, there isn't even a formal lease, making it even more difficult to prove property owners willfully violated the law.

"It's a criminal enterprise," Celena Vinson, a lawyer in the Harris County Attorney's public nuisance office, told the Chronicle last year. "They're just criminals playing with a system that kind of allows them to."


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sports bar sued over motorcyclist's death in 2016 crash

HOUSTON – A local establishment is being sued over a motorcyclist’s death two years ago in an alleged accident, per recent Harris County District Court records.

Gwendolyn Moore filed a lawsuit against Smoke Inn of Houston, Inc., doing business as On the Rox Sports Bar & Grill, on Feb. 7, accusing the business of contributing to the 2016 crash which killed her husband, Marcos Nava.

The defendant reportedly served Nava, a father of one, alcohol though it was aware of his intoxicated state.

Nava then left On the Rox on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. Court papers state that he was traveling southbound on Jones Road when he lost control of the motorcycle and struck the back of another vehicle.

The decedent suffered “catastrophic and fatal” injuries.

“At the time of his death, Marcos Nava’s BAC level was well in excess of the legal limit,” the original petition says.

Consequently, his widow seeks unspecified monetary damages and a jury trial.

She is represented by Jason P. Hoelscher, Bianca Calderon de Lachica, and Miranda J. Cook of the law firm Sico Hoelscher Harris & Braugh LLP in Corpus Christi.

Harris County 133rd District Court Case No. 2018-8372


Monday, February 5, 2018

Homestead woman attacked in Pizza Milano files $5 million lawsuit

A 34-year-old Homestead woman who was attacked by a manager at Pizza Milano in January on Monday sued the manager and company for more than $5 million.

The lawsuit springs from a Jan. 12 altercation captured on video, in which the manager, Mahmut Yilmaz, 41, of Westwood, confronts Jade Martin as she enters Pizza Milano on Fifth Avenue in Uptown. He is seen pushing her, throwing her to the ground and apparently slamming her head against the floor before other employees pull him away.

VIDEO WARNING: Here is the footage taken during the assault. This links to a Facebook page that contains profanity.

Both Mr. Yilmaz and Ms. Martin face criminal charges connected to the incident — her for trespassing and him for aggravated assault. Mr. Yilmaz said Ms. Martin was loud and disruptive; she said she just wanted to use the restaurant’s bathroom.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pizza Milano assault victim says she doesn't remember attack; charges held for court

Ms. Martin is still recovering from the attack and suffers from headaches, vision problems, memory loss and post-concussion syndrome, her attorney, George Kontos, said in the lawsuit filed Monday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

The lawsuit asks for more than $35,000 in compensatory damages and at least $5 million in punitive damages. Mr. Kontos said he believes the punitive damages are warranted because the company failed to properly vet and train Mr. Yilmaz, and did not have policies in place to guide the removal of a person from the restaurant.

“Our purpose is to see that Jade is compensated for her physical and emotional injuries,” Mr. Kontos said. “And also hold the corporation accountable as well.”

Ms. Martin sat with Mr. Kontos and her criminal defense attorney, Kenneth Haber, during a press conference Monday and teared up as her attorneys discussed the incident. She did not speak, but Mr. Haber said she is trying to return to normal life.

“She doesn’t want to be here,” he said. “She’s a victim and no one wants to embrace the role of victim. The only thing a victim can do if you want to make yourself right or whole is to go through the legal process.”

An employee who answered the phone Monday at Pizza Milano declined to comment on the lawsuit and hung up when a reporter asked to speak to a manager.

It’s the second lawsuit that Mr. Kontos has filed against Pizza Milano in the last five months, court records show. In September, he sued the company on behalf of Ashley Tait, whose mother, Carol Tait, 51, of Bellevue, was hit and killed by a vehicle driven by a Pizza Milano deliveryman in February 2016.

Julian Routh
Protesters demand justice for woman attacked by Pittsburgh pizzeria manager

The lawsuit avers that the delivery driver, Steven Krenke, then 28, was driving under the influence of a controlled substance and on a suspended license.

The suit alleges that the restaurant failed to vet Mr. Krenke or check his criminal history, and says the company should have known Mr. Krenke had a suspended license and a history of heroin abuse. It asks for compensatory damages in excess of $35,000.

Mr. Krenke died in August 2016 at the age of 29.

Mr. Kontos said the two incidents suggest Pizza Milano has a “disregard” for the safety of its patrons and members of the public.

“It is astounding that someone would act with that much recklessness toward members of the public with what their employees are doing,” he said.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Suit alleges Galveston bar served motorist involved in two-vehicle wreck

GALVESTON – A local bar is blamed for allegedly serving a motorist who was involved in a two-vehicle accident last March.

Mandi Yarbrough sued BOI Entertainment, LLC, doing business as The Albatross, on Feb. 2 in the Galveston County 122nd District Court, claiming the establishment permitted patron Luke Pavilonis to consume alcohol on the evening of Mar. 25, 2017, though he was already intoxicated.

Court papers further state that Pavilonis left the bar and traveled southbound on 16th Street.

Pavilonis, who is not a party in the case, purportedly failed to yield the right of way at 16th Street and Avenue L to Yarbrough.

According to the plaintiff, Pavilonis struck her vehicle and left her with “life altering” injuries.

Consequently, she seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Keith C. Purdue, E. Michael Grossman, and Greg W. Turman of the Grossman Law Office, P.C. in Dallas are representing Yarbrough.

Galveston County 122nd District Court Case No. 18- CV-0129


Lawsuit alleges Carlos Martinez was part of group to jump, break back of victim

Cardinals starting pitcher Carlos Martinez was allegedly part of a group that jumped a man outside an East St. Louis strip club in 2014, according to a lawsuit, per the Belleville News-Democrat (via CBS St. Louis).

The lawsuit says that the plaintiff was drinking at a bar in St. Louis on July 4, 2014 when he ended up in a verbal dispute with a group of men that included Martinez and since-deceased Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras. The plaintiff's filing says that he left the bar and went to an East St. Louis strip club thereafter (Penthouse Club, though it's now known as Diamond Cabaret).

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff eventually walked out of the club to hit a food stand in the parking lot when he was jumped by the group. They allegedly took him to the ground and beat him. On Martinez specifically, he's alleged to have punched the plaintiff in the face and head.

The plaintiff, per the lawsuit, suffered a broken back and almost $100,000 in medical bills to date, with more surgical procedures on tap.

The lawsuit also accuses the strip club (owned by IRC L.P.) of negligence and liability, noting that the club didn't call police until a good portion of time had passed after the alleged attack.

As for why this is just being filed now, the lawyer of the plaintiff offers this up:

"While we would have preferred to avoid litigation," attorney John Eccher said (, "the lack of acceptance of responsibility by culpable parties has required Tom Lech and myself to seek judicial intervention on behalf of Andy (D'Angelo, the plaintiff) to obtain justice."

It's highly unlikely Martinez would face any discipline from Major League Baseball on the matter, as this is a civil, not criminal, matter right now.