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Estate of New Ipswich couple killed in drunk driving crash sues bar that served the driver

  • The estate of a New Ipswich couple killed in a wrong-way crash in 2019 is suing a bar that they allege over served the drunk driver responsible for the crash. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/1/2020 2:51:48 PM

The estate of a New Ipswich couple killed in a wrong-way drunk driving crash is suing the bar and two employees that served the driver that hit them.

Husband and wife Heidi and John Johnson of New Ipswich were killed in early January of 2019 when their vehicle was struck by a driver going the wrong way down the westbound lane of Route 101 in Epping. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.

John Johnson was a former Townsend Police Department sergeant, and was still connected with the department as a reserve officer after his retirement in July of 2018. Heidi Johnson worked at the Hannaford Supermarket in Rindge.

The driver of the other vehicle, Ryan Kittredge, 32, was intoxicated at the time of the crash, with a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit, and has since been sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of manslaughter and reckless conduct.

Kittredge had two prior DUI convictions on his record.

During his sentencing hearing, Kittredge testified “that he had allowed a bartender to ‘grossly overserve’ him on the night in question, even though he only ordered one drink,” according to the complaint.

Administrators of the couple’s estate, including Jennifer Hunt of Rindge, Darrell Gyles of Mason and Bethany Molter of Ashby have filed a demand for a jury trial against North Beach Bar & Grill in Hampton, as well as two employees, Lea Merrill and Keith D’Andrade, alleging the bar overserved Kittredge prior to the crash.

The suit requests compensatory damages for pain and suffering, personal injury, mental pain and suffering, and the wrongful death of the Johnsons.

The bar, the complaint argues “had a duty to not overserve alcohol to any person and to refrain from serving alcohol to any intoxicated person,” and that as a direct result of their breach of duties, Kittredge “drove away in his vehicle in a highly intoxicated state causing him to collide with [Heidi and John Johnson] causing their death.”

The complaint alleges the North Beach Bar & Grill created an unsafe situation by over serving Kittredge, providing him with free drinks which encouraged him to become intoxicated, and then ordered him out of the bar when he became unruly, which led to him driving away while heavily intoxicated.

According to the complaint, filed at the Rockingham County Superior Court, Kittredge’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was .209 percent. He also had evidence of marijuana use in his bloodstream at the time of the crash.

The complaint alleges that at around 4:30 p.m. on the day of the crash, Kittredge, along with another man, James Skeffington-Ward, ordered a pizza and a round of drinks at Logan’s Run in Hampton. The two later went to North Beach Bar & Grill, where they consumed more alcohol. The complaint alleges that according to video surveillance, while working as a bartender at North Beach, Merrill served Kittredge six 16-ounce beers and four shots over the course of four-and-a-half hours. 

The majority of the alcohol appears to have been provided to Kittredge and his companion for free, according to the complaint, which alleges that neither Kittredge or his companion received a bill or paid for the majority of the alcohol. Kittredge paid $9 for an order of Hornitos tequila, and Skeffington-Ward paid $19.90 for an order of tequila and two beers. However, both men drank significantly more alcohol than was paid for.

The complaint alleges that Kittredge was visibly intoxicated, and should have been cut off by the bar. Kittredge was allegedly argumentative and using foul language, provoking other customers, and approaching other customers with a tape measure and measuring their body parts.

The complaint alleges that D’Andrade, also an employee at the bar, observed this behavior, and told Skeffington-Ward “it was time to leave because Kittredge was annoying the other patrons.”

Because of the cold temperatures, the complaint alleges it should have been evident that Kittredge and Skeffington-Ward would attempt to drive from the scene, and that the bar should have allowed the two to remain in the bar to secure a designated driver or call for transportation to ensure they did not drive while intoxicated.

It was about 40 minutes after leaving the bar that Kittredge pulled over on Route 101, made a U-turn, and began traveling the wrong way and was involved in the crash that killed the Johnsons.

The bar was cited by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission for several violations related to the incident, including providing alcohol to a person who was visibly intoxicated, providing free drinks to patrons, and refilling bottles. North Beach Bar & Grill entered a settlement agreement with the Liquor Commission, which included administrative fines of $5,000, with $2,500 suspended for 12 months pending no violations, a 30 day suspension of the bar’s liquor license, additional training for its employees and additional fines which were suspended pending no other like violations.

Merrill had been fired by the bar prior to the settlement, and D’Andrade was required to undergo a retraining process, according to the complaint.

Neither the bar, nor D’Andrade or Merrill, have filed a response to the complaint as of July 1, according to the case summary.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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