5 points death

Five Points bar pays $975,000 settlement

Dad gets $975,000; Son hit, killed by driver served in Jake’s

jmonk@thestate.comJanuary 16, 2013 

— Video cameras showing a young man in a bar, then driving a car that hit and killed a pedestrian in a high-profile intersection helped lead to a $975,000 settlement of a lawsuit against a Five Points bar.

“Surveillance cameras inside Jake’s Bar & Grill and outside on the streets were a tremendous help in this case,” said Dick Harpootlian, attorney for the father of Justin Timmerman, 24, of Chapin, who died last May 5 while crossing Harden Street in Five Points.

Timmerman was struck by a Land Rover SUV driven by William Holt Carlen, 24, of Columbia, according to criminal and civil papers filed in the case. Carlen had a blood-alcohol content of .20 – more than two times the legal indicator for drunk driving, according to a warrant in the case.

Timmerman’s father brought suit against Jake’s under a state law that prohibits bars from selling beer or wine to intoxicated people.

The suit against Jake’s, on Devine Street a half-block from Harden, grew out of a still-pending civil suit first filed against Carlen seeking damages for Timmerman’s family, according to that suit.

In the process of investigating that case, Harpootlian learned that Jake’s had 16 cameras shooting video of its customers, according to legal papers on file at the Richland County courthouse.

The Jake’s videos showed Carlen visiting the bar at 11:27 p.m. on Friday, May 4, and leaving early Saturday, at 1:30 a.m. A half-hour later, Carlen returned and stayed 14 minutes, according to the lawsuit that led to the settlement. The accident happened around 4 a.m.

Carlen’s total bar tab during those two visits “totaled almost $200,” according to the lawsuit.

The suit said that Jake’s employees continued to serve Carlen alcoholic beverages even though they “should have known Carlen was intoxicated,” the lawsuit said.

In the settlement document, Jake’s admitted no liability and Timmerman’s father, George Tony Timmerman, waived all future claims against the bar.

Carlen is scheduled to appear in court in February on the criminal charge of felony DUI.

A man who identified himself as the manager of Jake’s in answering the phone Tuesday said he had no comment on the suit, Carlen or the Timmerman’s death. He declined to give his name.

Efforts to reach attorneys for Carlen and Jake’s were unsuccessful Tuesday.

The lawsuits and settlement are sure to draw more attention to traffic fatalities in Five Points, a popular nighttime area near USC that has some 30 restaurants and bars.

When Timmerman was struck and killed, he was crossing Harden Street where it intersects with Greene and “possessed the right of way,” according to the lawsuit. Carlen was traveling south on Harden “at a speed substantially in excess of the posted speed limit of 25 mph ... (He) did not apply his brakes, but struck (Timmerman) at full speed,” the suit said.

After Timmerman’s death in May, a 67-year-old man in a motorized wheelchair was struck and killed by a dump truck at the same intersection in June. Also in June, two pedestrians were struck and injured by a car at that intersection.

Since then, city and state officials and the Five Points Association have been studying traffic safety at and around Harden and Greene streets.

Traffic engineers have painted some existing crosswalks with larger lines and brighter paint, as well as added a “No Right on Red,” said Five Points Association executive director Merritt McHaffie.

Discussions continue, she said.

McHaffie also said Five Points bars are generally watchful in serving alcohol to customers.

“The bars as a whole do a very good job of running their establishments as they should,” McHaffie said. “Every now and then, you have somebody who over-consumes but the signs are not always there. I don’t think this is an indication bars are being irresponsible.”

Asked if many Five Points bars had surveillance cameras inside, McHaffie said, “Some do; some don’t.”

The bars have cameras to have a record of what happens “to protect themselves and their customers” by reconstructing events if need be, she said.

“Also, some of them can watch in real time and see an issue before it starts, and send employees or doormen to go handle a situation before it gets out of control,” she said.

The cameras outside on the street that captured the accident are part of an overall Five Points surveillance system meant to enhance safety in the area.

Carlen is a son of the late Jim Carlen, one of the University of South Carolina’s most winning football coaches, who died last July at the age of 79. He coached the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner, George Rogers.

Last August, the parent company of Charleston’s Husk restaurant agreed to a $1.1 million settlement after one of its employees who’d been excessively drinking at the restaurant after hours later struck and killed another motorist, according to legal papers in that case.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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