By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — It was unfortunate timing for the owner of Quality Brand Liquors on South Elm Street.
The city’s deputy police chief happened to be driving by the store as a woman stumbled out the front door carrying a bag of booze.
Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said he was off duty at the time, but that he recognized the woman and turned his car around after he watched her “fall into the building” while walking out of the store with her teenage daughter.
Thompson said he pulled his car over and watched the woman fall again, before her daughter helped her into their vehicle, which another teenage girl was driving.
Thompson said he followed the car to the woman’s home on Kingsbury Avenue.
“I was concerned about the underage girls, so I ordered our officers to do a well-being check at the house,” Thompson told the License Commission at a hearing Thursday night to consider disciplinary action against Quality Brand Liquors for selling alcohol to an intoxicated person.
Thompson said the woman told police she bought two bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka at the store. He said police found five minor girls at the home, but none of them appeared to be drinking alcohol. Thompson said several of the girls were sent home and their parents notified. Police then called the state’s child protective services office and advised them of the situation at the house, Thompson said.
Next, police visited the liquor store to speak with owner Yatin Patel, who was working when the woman bought the wine and vodka. Patel, who has been running the store since November of last year, told police he recalled the woman police said was intoxicated as a customer who was in the store earlier with her daughter. However, Patel told police he did not think the woman was drunk when he sold her alcohol — an assertion he repeated Thursday to the License Commission.
Commission member Gerald Sewell said Patel’s story seemed “shaky.”
“She was tipsy or loaded,” Sewell said to Patel. “I wonder if you are telling the truth.”
“You might make a few dollars (selling to intoxicated person),” Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards told Patel. “But it will cost you a lot more if we suspend your license for a few days. ... Don’t do it, because it can lead to someone getting hurt and a lot of trouble for you.”
The commission voted to suspend Patel’s license to sell alcohol for two days, but the panel suspended the punishment for six months because Patel has no history of license violations. If the store has no more problems during the probationary period, the suspension doesn’t have to be served, according to the commission’s decision.
Patel said he has installed several signs inside his store since the incident alerting customers that picture identification is required to buy alcohol and that no one who is intoxicated will be sold alcohol.
“I’ll be more careful in the future for sure,” Patel told the commission.