EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 16, 2014

City mulls penalty for restaurant

Board awaits crash review after driver told cops he was drinking there

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — City officials said they are anxiously awaiting the results of a police probe into an incident where a customer of a downtown restaurant drove his car into a pedestrian.

The customer told police he had been drinking before the crash at the popular Hans Garden restaurant on Washington Street, according to a police report.

The restaurant’s owner will face questioning by the License Commission that could lead to eventual punishment. The commission planned to have its review this week, but police in Lawrence, where the pedestrian was hit, have not completed their report.

Licence Commission Chairman Joseph Edwards said when a bar is under scrutiny for over-serving a patron who is then involved in a serious accident, it becomes a matter of public safety and his board follows the situation very closely.

“If someone is drunk as a result of drinking at one of our establishments, it’s very serious,” Edwards said, noting that his board can take actions ranging from liquor license probation or suspension to early closing hours to even revocation of the license.

This is the second notable incident involving the restaurant, which serves Chinese food. The other involved a Methuen man who was drinking there and fell off an outside deck in the rear of the restaurant, where he received serious injuries, according to police.

When contacted by The Eagle-Tribune, restaurant owner Tony Han said he had no comment, based on the advice of his lawyer.

Edwards said he removed Hans Garden from this week’s commission meeting agenda while his board waits for reports from police in Lawrence and Haverhill, as well as from the Essex District Attorney’s Office, which he said is investigating the pedestrian incident.

Last month, Lawrence Police said Nathan Sanborn Jr. of Kensington, N.H., told them he had been drinking at Hans Garden before he was charged with driving into a pedestrian with his pickup truck on the night of Jan. 18. He had a .17 blood alcohol level, police said.

The collision left the pedestrian, Jose Diaz, 24, of Lawrence fighting for his life in a Boston hospital.

Edwards said he and fellow commissioners Gerald Sewell and Timothy Coco are looking to obtain information regarding allegations that Hans Garden over-served Sanborn, who subsequently drove into Diaz, according to police.

“We don’t have enough information to go forward at this time,” Edwards said. “This is a very serious issue and I don’t want to do anything that interferes with what (police) are doing.

“We need to get to the bottom of this and find out exactly what happened,” he said.

Edwards said his board may reschedule the matter as an item for discussion, or once the police investigation is completed the commission could bypass a discussion and go directly to a show cause hearing, which would allow the board to take action against the restaurant. He said that at this kind of hearing, the owner of Hans Garden would have a chance to explain his side of the story and the board would then determine if there was a violation and whether or not someone was over-served at Hans Garden.

In September 2012, the restaurant was cited for over-serving a 26-year-old man who fell backward off a second-story deck overlooking the Merrimack River. The Licence Commission gave the restaurant a liquor license probation for six months, but decided not to take further action because the victim declined to talk to the commission or police.

Also in 2012, the commission reviewed another complaint against Hans Garden for not allowing police officers to immediately enter the premises after they showed a security officer at the front door their law enforcement credentials. At the time, Edwards said the undercover officers were looking for a suspect in a criminal investigation, but were delayed from entering the establishment by a bouncer who insisted on seeing the officers’ photo identifications in addition to their badges.

“People like you and you’re a friendly guy,” Edwards told Hans at a November 2012 meeting. “But you serve too many drinks to too many people.”

In the incident involving the pedestrian who was hit, Sanborn, 21, was arraigned Jan. 21 in Lawrence District Court on charges he struck Diaz with his Ford F-150 pickup while driving drunk.

Officers at the scene said they smelled alcohol and urine on Sanborn, who told police he had been drinking at Hans Garden prior to the accident, according to court papers.

Diaz, who was walking at Haverhill and Warren streets in Lawrence when he was struck by Sanborn’s truck, was thrown 20 feet into the air after Sanborn “plowed” into him at 9:23 p.m., according to police and court reports.

Diaz was listed in “extremely critical condition” at Beth Israel Hospital with head injuries, including brain swelling, prosecutor Lindsay Nasson said at Sanborn’s arraignment.

Sanborn, of 281 S. Road, Kensington, N.H., refused to take field sobriety tests and was charged with drunken driving, negligent operation and drunken driving resulting in an accident with serious bodily injury. Prosecutors said that during booking at the Lawrence police station, Sanborn “made extremely hateful and racist remarks” about Diaz.

When Sanborn was brought into the courtroom, Diaz’s family members, including his mother, siblings and cousins, sobbed loudly. Prosecutors asked for bail to be set at $25,000, but when Judge Kevin Gaffney set it at $15,000, Diaz’s family members started yelling as they left the courtroom.