AUBURN, Maine (AP) – The parents of a 16-year-old boy killed by a drunken driver are suing the motorist and the Auburn restaurant where they believe she was drinking before the crash.
Suzanne and Robert Barton said they will donate any money from the lawsuit to a scholarship named for their son, Ethan, who was struck two years ago while riding his bicycle to Range Pond State Park in Poland.
The driver, Gale Chapman, fled the scene and later claimed she thought she had hit a deer. She had a blood alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit. She was sentenced in September to a year and a half behind bars after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident.
Prosecutors dropped the more serious manslaughter charge as part of the plea agreement because they were afraid it might not hold up in court.
The Bartons said they were able to name The Village Inn Restaurant & Lounge in the lawsuit because their attorney, Benjamin Troy, has gathered evidence showing Chapman was drinking there on the day of the accident.
“The suit is our attempt to do all we can to make sure justice is served,” Robert Barton said. “It’s the only way we can get the whole story.” Chapman refused to cooperate when their attorney questioned her in prison, Suzanne Barton said.
“She said she wouldn’t answer any of his questions until we filed a lawsuit,” she said. “So we filed the suit. Now, she’ll have to answer the question under oath.” “It is a very popular restaurant, it makes me angry that they got away with letting Chapman get that drunk, then drive away,” she said.
Chapman’s attorney is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. Barri Bloom, the attorney for the restaurant, said her clients didn’t know until they received the lawsuit last month that Chapman may have been drinking there.
“How is a busy restaurant supposed to remember who they served on any particular day?” Bloom said. “Think of all the people that may have been in and out of there.”
Chapman will have to serve 200 hours of public service speaking to high school students about the dangers of driving drunk when she is released from prison.