A Chapel Hill business could be closed through New Year’s Eve – a busy season for restaurants and bars – after selling alcohol this summer to five underage customers, the state ABC Commission ruled Wednesday.
The owners of La Residence have the option of having their alcohol permits suspended for 50 days, starting Dec. 18, or pay a $5,000 fine – the maximum under state law – and face a 14-day suspension, Chairman Jim Gardner said.
“One of the things we talked about today is we’re trying very hard as a commission to do something about the underage drinking that goes on in the state,” Gardner said.
The restaurant, located at 202 W. Rosemary St., was charged after a customer’s fatal head-on collision in Orange County. Former UNC student Chandler Kania, 20, is charged with driving the wrong way on Interstate 85 and killing three people.
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Investigators have said Kania and others used fake identification to get into La Residence and another downtown bar, He’s Not Here, before the wreck. Kania's blood alcohol level after the wreck was 0.17 – more than twice the state's legal limit for someone 21 and older, investigators said.
Three civil lawsuits have been filed against the bars, Kania and his parents.
ABC Commissioner Kevin Green said in October that a penalty proposed for La Residence was not strong enough, considering Gov. Pat McCrory’s push to rein in underage drinking. The commission asked its legal staff to come back with a new proposal.
La Residence could appeal the decision to an administrative law judge.
He’s Not Here appealed its permit suspension; a hearing could be held in late January, Gardner said. Permits that are not voluntarily surrendered can be revoked; the bar's owners would not be able to seek new permits for three years.
The state budgeted $3.1 million this year for its “Talk it Out” campaign – http://www.talkitoutnc.org– to provide parents with resources for talking with their children about underage drinking before they enter high school and college.
Underage drinking often starts in middle school, Gardner said, but surveys have found that parents don’t realize the seriousness of the problem. Their children often do, he said.
The campaign also provides more training for permit holders and their employees and is working with community groups, public schools and all 17 UNC system campuses. The campaign could spread to private colleges next year.
More than 4,000 people in college towns across the state have been trained this year, Gardner said.
The state is also focused on enforcement, he said. The commission acted on 122 permit violations Wednesday and issued $240,000 in fines. About 67 percent of those were for underage drinking, he said.
“We don’t want to put people out of business unless it’s really a bad, bad situation,” Gardner said. “We’d rather have them pay a penalty, understand the problem, go in and train them, hopefully, so it won’t happen again.”