Three Eureka bars, convicted driver sued in drunk-driving death

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

EUREKA SPRINGS -- In ongoing civil lawsuits stemming from the drunk-driving death of Leonard Beck in 2009, Beck's mother is suing not only the driver of the vehicle in which her son was killed, but three Eureka Springs taverns for alleged negligence.

According to a police report, on Oct. 11, 2009, Tonya Sherman, 21, of Eureka Springs was driving a vehicle in which Leonard Beck, 28, of Eureka Springs was a passenger; they were headed northbound on Highway 23 North in Eureka Springs.

On approaching Highway 187 at 2:05 a.m., Sherman traveled off the roadway to her left, over-corrected back to her right, and lost control of the vehicle. Her Dodge Ram pickup slid sideways, traveled down an embankment and struck a large tree, causing the truck to spin 180 degrees, police reports show. Sherman was taken to Eureka Springs Hospital, and Beck was pronounced dead at the scene.

The affidavit of probable cause for her arrest on Dec. 22 showed Sherman's blood alcohol level at 0.20 percent -- more than twice the legal limit. A blood sample taken from Beck at the funeral home showed his level to be 0.23 percent, nearly three times the limit.

Sherman had been previously convicted of driving while intoxicated, in 2007.

She was arrested and charged with negligent homicide, a Class C felony, in January 2010 and later convicted. She served a one-year sentence, from September 2010 to September 2011.

Joyce Beck, the mother of the deceased, filed suit Feb. 28, 2012, against Sherman and against two Eureka Springs establishments that allegedly served alcohol to her: the Pied Piper Lounge and the Tiki Torch Club, as well as individually against Fatima Treuer, owner of the Pied Piper Pub and the adjoining Cathouse Lounge.

The suit holds the bars liable for damages because they allegedly sold alcohol to Sherman when she was "clearly intoxicated" before the wreck.

Specifically, the complaint states the bars failed to correctly supervise employees; failed to ensure public health and safety; failed to warn (Leonard) Beck of Sherman's intoxicated condition; failed to detain Sherman and Beck "when they were in need of alternative transportation or assistance under the circumstances"; and knowingly allowed Sherman to leave in an intoxicated condition. The suit requests a jury trial and seeks punitive damages.

Beck filed an amended complaint last week, adding the Firehouse Pub, LLC and Smokey's Firehouse Pub, LLC, both owned by Joel Schleiff of Fayetteville, as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Court document answers from the various defendants to Beck's complaint deny the allegations.

J. Barrett Deacon, attorney for Pied Piper, said on Monday, "Since litigation is pending, we are unfortunately not able to address specific facts. We have to let the court process run its course, but once it does, we will prove that Ms. Treuer and the Pied Piper were not involved in this unfortunate and tragic accident."

Other defendants and attorneys had not responded to messages from CCN seeking comnent as of press time late Monday.

A second lawsuit was filed May 17, 2012, by American Western Home Insurance Co., the insurer of LMD of Eureka Springs, owner of the now-closed Tiki Torch. Naming all interested parties as defendants as required by law, the initial suit requested a declaratory judgment that LMD's insurance policy -- though in effect when the accident took place -- excluded liquor liability and liability for bodily injury resulting from the intoxication of a person or the furnishing of alcohol to someone under the influence of alcohol. In late December, AWH filed another motion, for summary judgment. No ruling has been issued on that yet.

Depositions will be taken in January and February, discovery deadline is April 15, and trial is set for July 15-19.

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