2 Investigates: Ga. over-serving laws not actively enforced

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — After a series of drunken drivers caused wrong-way crashes on local interstates, Channel 2 Action News started investigating and found that, in some cases, the drivers were over-served.

Georgia has laws aimed to prevent over-serving at bars, but Channel 2 found that those laws are not actively enforced.

Family members who have lost loved ones in drunken driving accidents believe the state should be doing more.
"I saw him that night, the night of the accident. A few days later, he came home in ashes," Leah Ko said.

Her brother, Eddie Ko, was a 23-year-old University of Georgia student.

Eddie Ko was killed by a drunken driver in Gwinnett County in December 2010. He was driving along Steve Reynold's Boulevard when a car crossed the median, hitting him head-on.

Eddie Ko died at the hospital. The driver of the other car, Soon Kwon, was convicted of driving under the influence.

"The damage was catastrophic," the Ko's family attorney Chris Simon said.

Witnesses testified under oath that Kwon and his friends had been drinking heavily before consuming up to seven more rounds at Café Todahmgol in Duluth.

"What we know from eyewitness testimony is that they are served between five and seven bottles at the restaurant despite the fact that they rolled into the door wasted," Simon said.

Kwon is serving a 7- year sentence in prison and will be deported back to Korea. The restaurant was accused of over-serving and staying open after hours to continue serving.

The restaurant settled the case for $500,000 and remains open, but the Ko family wonders if more could have been done before Kwon got behind the wheel.

"There's a code, a regulation to be enforced, but you're not really enforcing it? Doesn't really make sense," Stella Ko, Eddie Ko's oldest sister said.

The state of Georgia has the Dram Shop Act, which means that if a drunk person is served alcohol and subsequently injures someone in a drunken driving crash, the victim can sue the establishment.

Channel 2 Action News producers went undercover at a bar recently sued for over-serving and saw the practice first-hand.

A bartender served two men five drinks each in an hour and a half.

Channel 2 contacted the department of revenue, which regulates alcohol infractions, and found that it does not crack down on establishments that over-serve.

Other states, however, do enforce over-serving laws.

In North Carolina, Channel 2 photographers rode undercover with alcohol enforcement officers as they cited bartenders for over-serving.

Bartenders found over-serving in North Carolina could lose their licenses.

"We take it very seriously, because people are leaving, getting in their cars and driving," Officer James Schankle with the ABC law enforcement division in North Carolina said. "We just want to catch you on the front end."

In Washington state, police ask every person stopped for suspected DUI where they've been drinking.

Officers keep track, and if a bar or restaurant is named repeatedly, officers will go undercover into the establishment.

In Georgia, there are no plans to implement any of that.

State Sen. Butch Miller is the vice chair of the State Transportation Committee.

"One of the five ways that I evaluate legislation is: does it increase personal responsibility? I think personal responsibility is the real criteria we should be discussing," Miller said.

Miller said less government is the answer, not more, but he also said if there's a pattern of abuse, it's something the legislature should discuss.

"If there's someone leaving, a pattern of people leaving a certain locale that they're getting DUI's or getting pulled over, arrested for driving under the influence, then yes, that's something we have to look at," Miller said.