The state ABC Commission had a clear message Wednesday for a Chapel Hill bar and others who continue to sell alcohol to underage customers.
“They better not come back before us again, and I hope they understand that,” commission Chairman Jim Gardner said. “And anybody else who’s had numerous violations better not come back to this commission.”
The three-member panel approved a negotiated 21-day permit suspension and $15,000 fine for He’s Not Here, a Franklin Street bar where former UNC student Chandler Kania drank July 18, hours before a triple-fatal wreck.
The bar was among 80 businesses collectively fined more than $107,000 Wednesday or which had alcohol permits suspended for more than five days. The fines are due Feb. 5; the suspensions begin Feb.12.
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The decision negates an earlier offer that would have revoked He’s Not Here’s alcohol permits for 50 days.
The bar’s owners appealed to an administrative judge and were allowed to choose instead between serving a 50-day suspension or paying a $5,000 fine – the maximum under state law – for April and June permit violations. The offer in the July case was a 30-day suspension, or a 21-day suspension and $5,000 fine.
Kania, 20, of Asheboro, is accused of drinking alcohol at an off-campus party on July 18 before using a fraternity brother’s identification to drink at He's Not Here and another Chapel Hill bar, La Residence.
Investigators said Kania drove the wrong way on Interstate 85 about an hour later, causing the July 19 head-on wreck. He faces multiple charges, including driving while impaired and three counts of second-degree murder.
His blood alcohol level after the wreck was 0.17 – more than twice the state’s legal limit for someone 21 and older – investigators said. Both bars, Kania and his parents have been named in three civil lawsuits.
The ABC Commission settled the case against La Residence in November after rejecting an earlier penalty as not tough enough. The restaurant had its permits suspended for 14 days in December and paid a $5,000 fine.
Kania is under house arrest at his parents’ Asheboro home on $1 million bail. His case will return March 8 to Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Gardner said he would have preferred to revoke the bar’s permits since no one checked Kania’s identification and the bar has had multiple violations in the past. But this was the best possible outcome, he said.
Underage drinking costs North Carolina one life a week and more than $1 billion a year, he said. It also contributes to roughly 60 percent of the state’s alcohol violations, he said.
Getting businesses to meet their responsibility will be a big job, Gardner said. The commission also is taking a hard line as part of the state’s new “Talk it Out” campaign, he said. The campaign’s goal is getting parents and children to talk about alcohol and reducing the number who drink before age 21.
“Had the places involved done the job they were supposed to do and checked IDs at the place they were selling alcohol,” Gardner said, “none of those kids would have been able to get alcohol, and maybe we wouldn’t have had happen what happened in Chapel Hill.”