Lawsuit targets fatal hit-and-run driver, Charleston area bars that served him
The family of a man who died after a hit-and-run collision in West Ashley last year is suing the drunk driver who struck him and the bars and restaurants where he was served that night.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of Gerard Nieto targets the driver, Jason Frank Marion, 32, of Summerville; King Street Grille; Market Street Saloon; Wild Wing Cafe; D.I.G. in the Park; and Gene's Haufbrau. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
Marion is serving a 6-year state prison sentence on a reckless homicide charge after pleading guilty in January to causing Nieto's death.
The lawsuit alleges that Marion went on a more than seven-hour drinking binge at the five bars before taking to the road around 1:20 a.m. May 4, 2012. He then slammed his truck into Nieto, who was thrown from his bicycle along Savannah Highway, near White Oak Drive, the lawsuit stated.
Brian Mahoney is the owner of D.I.G. in North Charleston, the third establishment Marion allegedly visited that night. Mahoney said he has no recollection of Marion being there.
Mahoney called Nieto's death a horrible tragedy and said he feels for the man's family. “There is nothing worse in the world,” he said. But as a small businessman, he said, he was “petrified” by the lawsuit.
Mahoney said his restaurant goes to great lengths to police alcohol consumption and cut people off if they over-indulge. But it can be difficult to tell how much someone has had to drink before they arrive, he said.
Gene's manager declined to comment on the lawsuit. King Street Grille and Wild Wing did not return messages seeking comment. Market Street Saloon had not received the lawsuit Friday.
Sandy Senn, attorney for the Nieto estate, was in court this week and unavailable for comment, her office stated.
The case comes on the heels of an August 2012 settlement in which the parent company of Husk restaurant in Charleston agreed to pay $1.1 million to end a suit brought by the family of man killed in a fiery car wreck on the Ravenel Bridge. It was allegedly caused by a restaurant worker drunk behind the wheel.
In the more recent case, Marion started his drinking expedition at King Street Grille in downtown Charleston, where he hung out with several co-workers, starting at 5:30 p.m., the lawsuit stated. During his three hours there, he purchased five or six pitchers of beer, the suit stated.
From there, he and his co-workers went to Market Street Saloon and downed at least two drinks of liquor, the lawsuit stated. He and a friend then proceeded to D.I.G., where he had more liquor drinks before heading on to Wild Wing in Mount Pleasant for additional booze, the suit stated.
After leaving Wild Wing, Marion's buddy, who was in a separate car, was pulled over by Mount Pleasant police and charged with driving under the influence, according to the lawsuit. Marion continued on to Gene's Haufbrau and allegedly drank three more drinks and shots with the bartender, becoming so intoxicated that “he experienced an alcoholic blackout upon leaving,” the lawsuit stated.
Marion struck Nieto from behind soon after, which threw Nieto off his bicycle onto the road, prosecutors said. His truck dragged the bike for about a quarter-mile and then drove off, they said.
Marion did not render aid, wait for police or report the accident, warrants said. A few days later Marion turned himself in to the Charleston Police Department.
The lawsuit states that Marion lied to his wife, his co-workers and his insurance carrier about how his truck got damaged. He finally came forward after a friend who knew the truth threatened to tell police if Marion failed to own up to what he had done, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that Marion was guilty of negligence and recklessness, while the bars were negligent for continuing to serve him past the point of intoxication. The lawsuit singles out Gene's for particular criticism, alleging that the staff should have known Marion posed a risk because he had worked there as a bartender and had two previous DUI charges on his record.
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.