Empty Chair

This past Tuesday, I had to take a four hour class about the safe serving of alcohol. I need the certification for my job. About fifteen minutes in, after all of the intro stuff, I started to become very anxious. The woman who was starring in the class was pro drinking and having a great time. Yes, she was training us to do this safely . . . but the information brought up so many things from Becca’s death.

For the majority of my children’s lives I was a restaurant industry worker. From a server to bartender and eventually manager. My job was to make sure people had a good time, make the establishment money, and earn tips. Very rarely did I consider the fact that I could be an accomplice in getting someone hurt or killed. I’d never been close enough to a death due to alcohol for it to impact me deeply. In fact, the happier your customers were the better tips they would leave!

When I had been told I needed to get the certification it never dawned on me that I would be affected, in this manner, by the subject.

The class was divided into four modules. The first dealt with the liability. Criminal, civil (which includes “The Dram Shop Act”) and administrative liability. My first thought, in context to how my daughter was killed is the fact I had learned about the Dram Shop Law while talking to a lawyer the day after she died. He explained to me that I would be able to sue multiple parties. The driver. His parents. And, the bar. I was within my rights to sue the server or bartender who overserved the young man. Unfortunately, the bar couldn’t tell us who that was due to the fact that they had very little accountability when it came to service.

The second module centered around the strength of different alcohols. An 80 proof vodka is 40% alcohol. A 100 proof liquor is 50% alcohol. A five ounce glass of wine is generally 4% to 6%. There is a wide range of alcohol content in beer due to the fact that many micro brews are higher than common beer. I learned how much a “standard” drink is and how to “count” drinks by the alcohol content NOT the number of glasses served. I was shown different ways to keep track of the drinks counted. How to alert co workers when the limit of drinks allowed has been reached so no one else serves someone who has been “cut off”.

The bar that served the driver that killed my child had NONE of these protocols in place. Not one. Multiple sit down “rails” were available. The bartenders at either end of the building didn’t communicate with each other. No one counted drinks. There was a big galvanized tub near the front door that held bottles of beer and chilled Jagermeister so people could get a drink within seconds of walking into the establishment. The person running this didn’t let the bartenders, or servers, know that most people had a shot or two before they even found a seat. I know all of this because I went in to see it for myself when my lawyer told me these facts would help us win.

In this module, I also learned about BAC. Blood Alcohol Content. The term is pretty easy to understand. The nationwide alcohol content that is considered the legal limit is .08. Did you know that one teaspoon of alcohol in a 150 lb. man will give a BAC of .08? I didn’t. A BAC of .30 (meaning ⅓ of your blood is alcohol) can put you into a coma. Remember that number.

When I was in court to hear the driver being read the charges against him I learned his BAC was .24. He was less than a teaspoon away from a possible coma. One more beer or shot of tequila, his drink of choice, and he might have passed out and not killed my child. If only. He would deserve to be dead because he had done it to himself. But he didn’t. He did it to my only daughter.

If the bar had been doing their job, and checked his ID, they would have known he had a suspended license due to his previous drunk driving offense just six weeks prior. They would have turned him away and Becca and his path would not have crossed that night. After this class, I understand just how much responsibility the bar had. How very easily my daughter’s life could have been saved. Why did they not follow laws? More money, I imagine. More sales is more profit. Intoxication loosens up the customer and cash flows easier.

As I said previously, I used to waitress and tend bar. After her death, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Though I didn’t know all the facts I do now I did know that I could not be a part of any situation that might thrust a family into the one I was in. I knew that I would make the decision to cut every guest off after their second drink. There would be no way I could laugh along with a customer, as they got smashed, because it would get me better tips. The death of my child would not allow me to be the type of bartender most establishments would need in order to turn a profit. I had to leave the food service industry.

The certification I received, after passing the exam yesterday, will allow me to legally serve alcohol. I am happy to see that the industry is becoming more serious about preventing alcohol related tragedies, however, I’m not sure I am ready to serve alcohol again. I no longer drink. It’s a choice I made for many reasons. I don’t know if I can be a party to anyone drinking, period. Yes, there is protocol I can follow in order to minimize events but there is nothing I can do to guarantee everyone’s safety. Except NOT serve alcohol at all.

When I let my mind go to the fact that there were very simple things that the bar could have done, but didn’t do to protect their guests, I get pissed. Any one of the numerous precautions could have saved Becca’s life. She would be here. Next to me. Maybe my blog would be about being a grandmother. Not a grieving mother. How different life would be.

I guess I am writing this particular blog for two reasons:

First, as grieving mothers know, a trigger can hit us at the most unexpected times. We’ll be rolling along in our day, when out of nowhere, the truth of our loss brings us to our knees. There is no preparing for it either. We just have to ride the wave until it wears itself out. There is some control in knowing these times will come and we can get through them.

Second, no one’s life is worth another’s good time or monetary gain. Alcohol consumption is a part of everyday life for many people. Go to the local sports bar to down a few pitchers while the game is one. Take advantage of an open bar at a wedding. No one wants these things to lead to a tragedy.

Responsibility, for each other, rests within all of us.


Author: Diane Neas

I'm a mother, artist, and writer. A decade ago I lost my daughter. I find writing, and painting, heal me. Sharing my story of loss and healing lightens what I carry. And, hopefully, my words help another along the way.

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