CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - A year ago, an Arizona college student got drunk in a restaurant bar, went speeding down the wrong side of an interstate, and slammed into the car of two Mooresville sisters hoping to watch the sun come up over the Grand Canyon. All three were killed.
Now a Mellow Mushroom in Phoenix is paying a fine and lost its liquor license for a week by acknowledging it kept serving booze to an already drunk customer.
That patron, Keaton Allison, came to the restaurant on April 14, 2017, with friends but left early the next morning alone in his car with a blood-alcohol level of .25, more than three times the legal limit.
Within minutes, the student at a nearby Christian college was barreling 80 mph down the wrong side of Interstate 17. Shortly after 2 a.m., he slammed into the Pontiac that carried sisters Karli and Kelsey Richardson of Mooresville, who were headed to the Grand Canyon to close out their spring break.
All three died instantly. Karli was 20; Kelsey was 18. Medical examinations revealed that the sisters had not been drinking.
Allison, according to a state investigation, had been drinking a lot. Under an agreement filed this week with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, the Mellow Mushroom in Phoenix acknowledged over-serving Allison along with two other violations: allowing an intoxicated customer to remain on its premises and not protecting the safety of a patron.
Mellow Mushroom agreed to pay a $9,000 fine and surrendered its liquor license for a week.
The restaurant's legal problems aren't over. The sisters' mother, Cathy Hocking of Mooresville, has sued the chain on grounds that it violated Arizona law by over-serving Allison.
She called the liquor board's ruling a significant step in the pursuit of justice for her daughters.
"It's significant because the restaurant admits they over-served a drunk customer," Hocking said. "That's huge for me. They know. They know. This was preventable, and they did nothing to stop it."
Hocking's attorney, Steve Hulsman of Phoenix, declined comment Tuesday. Referring to the consent decree from the case, Hulsman added, "Some things speak for themselves."
The case illustrates the balancing act restaurants must play in profiting from liquor sales while being held legally responsible for how much their customers drink.
In the Arizona case, the Mellow Mushroom waiter who served Allison's party told state investigators he only brought Allison a beer sample and a single pint.
Several of Allison's drinking companions, though, said the 21-year-old had consumed beers and shots of liquor in various parts of the bar and was "slushed out" by midnight.