Misplaced Justice

Three years ago, Jessica Blanck and Kristyne Shaddix were killed by a drunk driver who had been drinking at a Gresham bar.

Three years ago, Jessica Blanck and Kristyne Shaddix were killed by a drunk driver who had been drinking at a Gresham bar. The parents of the two young women recently won a $1.35 million lawsuit against the Golden Star Restaurant and Lounge for over serving Theresa Nickelby, the driver who crashed head on into the car carrying the two young women.

Nickelby will be out of jail in about nine months. She was given the maximum sentence allowed. Her blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit when taken the night of the crash after receiving more than one blood transfusion, according to The Oregonian.

This sad incident brings up difficult issues. A four-and-a-half-year sentence should not be the maximum sentence allowed in a case like this. Why can’t the punishment be more severe, especially considering her blood alcohol level as well as prior driving violations? This punishment does not fit the crime. Oregon’s DUII laws are definitely not severe enough.

Perhaps this seemingly light sentence caused the families to seek more justice by suing the bar, but is it their fault? Should they really pay a higher price than the driver? The families’ pain and want for justice are completely understandable, but is $1.35 million paid by the bar truly justice or just grieving families’ attempts at blame to ease their grief?

According to The Oregonian, the Golden Star, which is now closed, had a reputation for over serving. In the five years leading up to this particular deadly crash in 2007, 35 patrons who left the bar were arrested for DUII and the Gresham police chief had even sent letters regarding the issue to the bar’s owners. The OLCC had only fined the establishment once.

This suggests that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) is not doing a good job of regulating over serving. The Associated Press reported that there are only 42 inspectors to regulate 12,000 establishments.

The OLCC should do a better job of regulating and fining for over serving, but unfortunately, irresponsible drinkers will find a way to get their poison and get behind the wheel. The state of Oregon needs to do a better job of deterring and punishing them.

Sadly, no amount of money will bring back the loved ones lost in this tragic incident and the Golden Star should be fined accordingly for the violation of over serving, but they are not directly responsible for the deaths of the young women. Theresa Nickelby is responsible, and she should be paying a higher price, not the Golden Star.

When liquor licenses are issued, businesses agree not to sell to obviously intoxicated persons. A former waitress interviewed anonymously by The Oregonian said that the night of the crash, Nickelby had appeared obviously intoxicated and had been over served. This is poor judgment and irresponsibility on the Golden Star’s part. No doubt the establishment should pay a fine, but they should not have to pay $1.35 million for Nickelby’s actions.

Yes, their actions may have helped lead to the incident, but this is a slippery slope. Is a gun manufacturer responsible for a death caused when someone pulls the trigger? Should we sue restaurants for making us fat?

Bars serve alcohol, and they do have to follow regulations, but guidelines for knowing when someone is too intoxicated are not and cannot be black and white due to the nature of alcohol. Drunk driving is an issue of personal responsibility.

The Golden Star Restaurant and Lounge should have been better regulated, but even more than that, Theresa Nickelby should not have made the decision to drive. Her choice killed two innocent young women and the price she paid is not harsh enough. If the families of Jessica Blanck and Krystyne Shaddix had felt the law had served justice on Nickelby, they might not have gone down the slippery slope of blaming the bar.