OLCC to a Beaverton bar over a two-year span.
According to Metro’s 2012 State of Safety report, driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) is the single largest contributing factor to fatal traffic collisions in the region. People who have too much to drink (or get impaired by drugs) and try to operate a car are responsible for 57% of all road fatalities region-wide.
While the drunk driving problem is relatively well-known among safety advocates and even the general public, what’s not often talked about are the restaurants and bars that serve the alcohol in the first place. Oregon law (ORS 471.412) states that a liquor license holder, “may not allow a person to consume or to continue to consume alcoholic beverages on the licensed premises after observing that the person is visibly intoxicated.”
Despite that law, police officers in the Portland region arrest hundreds of people each year who name the specific bar they came from prior to being pulled over. The names of those bars are then sent to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which keeps a running tally of the totals and ranks the worst offenders.
Now a local lawyer, Scott Kocher of Forum Law Group, is bringing attention to the establishments in the OLCC database. Kocher provided us with several years of the OLCC’s “Top Ten” lists that ranks each establishment in their license database (over 5,300 bars and restaurants in the Portland metro region) by how many DUI arrests they are linked to each year.
“When a victim finds out they were hit by a drunk driver who came out of a bar that has been sending dozens of drivers out onto the road with too much to drink, their reaction is outrage.”
— Scott Kocher, lawyer
The data raises new questions about our drunk driving culture, the responsibility of bar owners, the role of enforcement agencies, the role of neighborhood and traffic safety advocates, the consequences of auto-centric land-use development, and so on.
According to Kocher, who obtained the lists while representing the family of a DUI victim, few people know this data exists. Hoping to raise the red flag about the issue, Kocher made a presentation at the February meeting of the City of Portland’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, where he’s an alternate member.
“From an advocacy standpoint,” Kocher said, “we should be taking a really good look at this information.” Kocher thinks neighborhood groups would speak out loudly against bars that are repeatedly on the list, and perhaps even contact the OLCC to oppose liquor licenses when they come up for renewal.
To learn more, we contacted the OLCC to verify the data and learn more about how the list is compiled and how the agency deals with bars and restaurants that might be repeatedly over-serving intoxicated customers.
The data represents four, one-year periods from December 2009 through July 2013 (read and download the lists here). Interestingly, there are three establishments that appear on the list every year:
- Malone’s Ale House (1175 NW 185th Ave in Beaverton) was linked to 102 DUI arrests during this period and was in the top two each of the four years.
- The Peppermill Restaurant & Lounge (17455 SW Farmington Rd in Aloha) was linked to 75 DUI arrests during this period.
- West Union Sports Pub & Family Restaurant (5340 NW 185th Ave in Beaverton) was linked to 68 DUI arrests during this period.
These three establishments are less than six miles away from each other and they’re all along the 185th Avenue corridor in Washington County, an area whose land-use and development pattern is very auto-centric. Another striking geographic consideration is that while having only 19% of the total number of locations in Region 1 tracked by the OLCC, Washington County establishments claim 80% of the top ten rankings.
are all along the 185th Avenue corridor in Beaverton.
There are only two establishments in Portland (and not in Washington County) that appear in the four years of data we looked at: the Dirty Bar and Grill at 35 NW 3rd Ave (they appeared for two years, with an average of 13.5 incidents each year); and CC Slaughters at 219 NW Davis (they had 12 incidents in the period between July 2012 and July 2013).
Keep in mind that there are many caveats with this data. The incidents for each establishment originate from a police officer who asks a DUI suspect where they got their alcohol. People might say the wrong bar or they might have downed additional drinks after leaving the bar. Some individual officers or enforcement agencies might also be more diligent in getting this information out of the DUI suspect. Different counties also fund drunk driving enforcement at different levels.
OLCC Public Affairs Specialist Christie Scott says they use the DUII list “as an indicator of potential problems around the state.” Scott points out that the list doesn’t reflect every DUII arrest and that local law enforcement is only required to report the information to the OLCC if the Blood Alcohol Content of the suspect is .20 or higher or if there was damage (such as a crash) that’s tied to a business that holds a liquor license.
Scott also warned about the validity of the data. “The officers write down where the person arrested says he or she last drank alcohol. However, without absolute proof, it’s possible that the person is just saying he drank at xyz tavern because he doesn’t want to get his local watering hole into trouble. Or, he may have downed a sixer on the way home from the bar.”
“It’s possible that the person is just saying he drank at xyz tavern because he doesn’t want to get his local watering hole into trouble. Or, he may have downed a sixer on the way home from the bar.”
— Christie Scott, OLCC public affairs
Because the data is far from perfect, Scott says they use it only to spot general trends — such as a large number of DUII arrests where people all claim to have come from the same place. “That’s an indicator that OLCC inspectors should look closer for over service problems.”
In the case of Malone’s Ale House, we requested further documentation from the OLCC to understand their follow-up procedures. According to what they provided, the OLCC wrote seven warning letters to the bar’s owner and conducted 10 separate visits between December 2011 and January 2014. Of those 10 visits, seven of them were conducted by undercover OLCC agents.
During one 12 day period in December 2013, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office made five DUII arrests where the driver was observed coming from Malone’s Ale House.
“If people think this is a problem, they need to speak up. The neighborhood associations the advocates, and the victims.”
— Scott Kocher
Despite those warnings and the high number of DUI incidents linked to Malone’s, the OLCC has not imposed any sanctions for serving too much alcohol to customers. (Our calls to the owner of Malone’s have yet to be returned.)
Scott says that although the OLCC has the legal grounds prosecute bars in violation of ORS 471.412, it is very difficult to win those cases in court. “Those cases are challenging to make because the [OLCC] inspector must prove that the server or bartender knew that the customer was intoxicated and continued to serve him or her.” In order to build a strong case, the OLCC uses undercover agents who look for illegal serving behavior. Even though the statute doesn’t require the agent to see the violation, Scott says they’ve seen so many cases thrown out in court due to weak evidence that it has become standard procedure. (The OLCC has tried to change the law to make it easier to issue a citation, but they’ve been unsuccessful thus far.)
In the case of Malone’s, Scott says the agents never witnessed a violation. But, she added, “It’s not to say there aren’t issues; but everyone is innocent until proven guilty so it’s impossible for me to tell you they’re over-serving.”
Beyond a citation from the OLCC, Scott says, most establishments and their employees have more to lose from the possible civil litigation that can result from over-serving a customer who goes on to cause a crash due to their impaired state.
Ernie Conway is a former Beaverton City Council candidate and active neighborhood advocate. He’s also Chair of the City of Beaverton’s Traffic Commission. He said the Traffic Commission deals mostly with engineering issues; but that these lists should be on the radar of neighborhood groups. “If there were a high DUI rate or the business was in the NAC [Neighborhood Association Coalition], I believe folks would be very interested and concerned.”
Sergeant Todd Davis, a 27-year veteran with the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division, said he’d never heard of the list but he was very interested to see which establishments made the top ten. Interestingly, he also added that even if PPB officers knew about “problem bars” they wouldn’t target them. Asked why they wouldn’t just station a patrol car outside certain bars, he said “As a rule, we don’t just sit outside the bars, it’s never been an accepted practice.”
Kocher, the lawyer who represents DUII victims, thinks more people should know about these lists. “When a victim finds out they were hit by a drunk driver who came out of a bar that has been sending dozens of drivers out onto the road with too much to drink, their reaction is outrage.”
According to Ms. Scott with the OLCC, the list is not distributed to any agencies or advocacy groups, but it’s a public document that can be requested by anyone via their website.
Kocher hopes the lists lead to greater awareness of the issue. “If people think this is a problem, they need to speak up. The neighborhood associations the advocates, and the victims.”