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Courts and Crime

Investigators go after bars who serve drinks to troubled drinkers
Two bars face trouble for being responsible for a car crash and a customer getting alcohol poisoning

Jo Ingles

A bartender in Ada recently pleaded guilty to furnishing liquor to an intoxicated person. He had served at least 24 shots to a 21 year old customer who ended up with alcohol poisoning. An Akron bar has been cited for serving alcohol to girl who was involved in a serious car crash last spring. Those are just two prosecutions resulting from investigations by the Ohio Investigative Unit. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, the Unit’s agent-in-charge, Eric Wolf, explains how the agency operates what’s known as traceback investigations.

Wolf on the bar investigations short version

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Wolf on the bar investigations

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“It’s a service that’s available to any law enforcement agency here in Ohio where if they request our help, we can assist with the investigation to find out the source of the alcohol if it’s tied into a bar or carryout. We can find out if there’s criminal or civil action that’s taken place and if it needs to go to court.”

“What’s the criteria for going out and looking to trace this back. Does it have to be a particular level of severity?”

“No, there’s particular level. Our assistance is called in for anything from crashes or anything in permit premises so they can literally call in for an investigation where they think a permit holder might be liable for a criminal or administrative act.”

“Can you get called in when teens are hosting an underage party at their parent’s home?”

“Certainly. That may not fall into a traceback investigation but we get complaints of that all of the time….high school graduation or prom parties….where parents are hosting a party for underage individuals. So we will be involved in any of those types of investigations. It’s just a matter of receiving the complaints from law enforcement agencies or the public.”

“So what happens when you trace this back, find the source, what happens at that point?”

“Basically there are two avenues. There are criminal charges we can file for serving an intoxicated person or to a person who is not 21 years of age. And there are also administrative charges that we can file against the liquor permit itself. And the criminal charges obviously go to county municipal courts and the administrative citations go before the Ohio Liquor Control Commission.”

“Why is this important to trace back to find out where the alcohol is coming from?”

“Well a lot of it is to make sure individuals running a responsible business. It’s an effort to make sure those who hold these permits and run these businesses follow the law. At the same time, we want to try to provide some sort of deterrent to try to prevent individuals after they’ve been consuming alcohol to operate a motor vehicle. So it’s a way to make sure the permit holders stay in line as well as give them incentive to make sure people who’ve had too much to drink don’t drive. We have had too many crashes, especially some wrong way crashes recently in Dayton and Toledo, or alcohol involved crashes. It’s doing what we can to keep alcohol impaired individuals off the road to prevent injuries and death to other innocent citizens here in Ohio.”

Wolf says the investigations are done free of charge for law enforcement officials who request them. The unit has been in place for many years now but has been making changes recently to make it work more effectively. In addition to investigating alcohol related crimes, the unit also looks into cases of food stamp fraud.

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