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Fatal crash victim’s father seeks bar help in drunk-driving prevention

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Instead of celebrating his daughter’s 26th birthday March 11, Tim Hauser is left to mark the anniversary of her death. Sandra Hauser had been celebrating her 25th birthday on March 10 a year ago at Auburn bars and into the early morning hours of the next day. At about 2:30 a.m., she left one establishment, got into her car and took a wrong turn westbound onto eastbound Interstate 80. After turning around, she crashed the car into a rock outcropping near Auburn’s Main Street and was killed. Tests would later show that the popular Auburn waitress and Newcastle resident had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 – nearly three times more than the 0.08 legal limit. With his daughter gone almost a year, Tim Hauser remains hopeful – that bars and bartenders locally will take his daughter’s death to heart and be vigilant in helping keep inebriated drivers from getting behind the wheel. “I would like to ask local bar owners and bartenders to think of ways of being proactive and to keep this tragedy from happening again,” Hauser said. Hauser has written an open letter to bars and bar owners calling on local establishments to do more to help. He has also written to local and state elected officials to possibly require bar employees to be trained to recognize and aid customers who might drive and injure or kill innocent people. When bars refuse a customer alcohol, one idea would be to provide water or offer something non-alcoholic, Hauser said. “Perhaps the bartender could call a friend, a cab or even give a head’s up to the local police department that someone is about to drive impaired,” he said. “Remember that the slightly rowdy or even obnoxious person is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, friend or loved one.” Hauser is also calling on bars to provide training for employees to understand preventive ways to keep a person from driving if deemed drunk. Abby Stone, bartender at North Auburn’s World Pub, said she would like to see a shuttle-bus system become available for every bar. “We’re all about taking care of everyone,” Stone said. “If we find out someone doesn’t have transportation with someone else or has not walked here, we’re very concerned.” Stone said she hasn’t had any official training in identifying inebriated customers but has learned to spot them and stop serving them through experience. “I think a lot has to do with getting to know the person by observing them,” Stone said. John Carr, California Alcoholic Beverage Control spokesman, said Monday that the state department does offer training for bar owners and servers on a quarterly basis. The four-hour sessions are taught by department investigators to give establishments a better overview of how to serve alcohol legally and safely, he said. About 900 deaths took place on California roads last year involving drunken drivers. Carr said one of the most commonly asked questions the department fields is whether an obviously intoxicated person can be sold alcohol. The answer, as outlined in the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Act is “no,” he said. Under state law, it’s a misdemeanor to sell or furnish alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. The act’s definition of “obviously intoxicated” is “when an average person can plainly observe that the patron is intoxicated” with “usual signs” that include “staggering, alcoholic breath, dilated pupils of the eyes, slurred speech and poor muscular coordination.” Hauser said his daughter told him earlier on her birthday that while she was going to be celebrating in several local bars, she had a plan – friends were supposed to join her and one was to be the sober driver. “During the course of the evening, she was apparently cut off by one bar and went to another, where they continued to serve her for some time,” Hauser said. “I was told that she did not seem impaired, just ‘happy’ and having harmless fun.” But that wasn’t the case, Hauser said. “Her plan didn’t materialize,” he said. “The friends did not show up and/or abandoned her, she ran out of minutes on her cell phone and none of the people with whom she was celebrating thought to take her keys or call someone to give here a ride.” While obviously too impaired to be thinking about the consequences of her actions, she walked to her car and started to drive home but was killed on the way, he said. --------------------------------------------------- Drunken driving messages mixed for California bars California alcohol sales laws are sending mixed messages to mixologists, says a spokesman for a leading anti-drunken driving advocacy group. Silas Miers, law enforcement program specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in California, said that while bar employees face a misdemeanor charge for serving alcohol to someone already inebriated, the state has no “dram shop law” that would factor in civil liability if a motor-vehicle crash occurs with a drunken customer. “With California bartenders, it’s ‘Follow the law but there’s no civil responsibility,’” Miers said. California is also different than many other states that require bartenders to go through a licensing test to serve alcohol. In the Golden State, the only requirement is that the bartender by 21 or older, Miers said. California’s law against serving alcohol to someone already obviously drunk is also a very difficult one for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Department to enforce, Miers said. Agents would have to observe a person in a bar continuing to be served and they have to watch that the drink isn’t being bought, for instance, for a friend at the same table, Miers said. “And there would be eyebrows raised about having state agents in bars,” he added. Miers said that keeping intoxicated drivers away from their vehicles is about a community responsibility that starts with the potential drunken motorist and includes friends as well as servers. “People can become stubborn when they drink but friends should continue to push because the reality is it’s something they have to live with for the rest of their lives,” Miers said. “It’s important to remember the consequences.” – Gus Thomson