The family of an Anchorage woman killed by an accused drunken driver has sued Chilkoot Charlie’s, the Spenard bar where police say the man admitted to drinking heavily before the crash.
Lawyers for Lanita Sweatt-Sanders filed the wrongful death suit Nov. 22 in Anchorage Superior Court, asking for an unspecified amount of money. Police say Airman Lane Douglas Wyatt, 23, told police he drank five shots of liquor and three beers at the popular Spenard bar June 30 before getting in his Chrysler 300 sedan.
Wyatt ran a red light at about 5 a.m. on Boniface Parkway at DeBarr Road, slamming into a Monte Carlo driven by Citari Townes-Sweatt, 20, according to murder charges filed against him.
The lawsuit accuses both Chilkoot Charlie’s and Wyatt of liability in the death, which occurred nearly two hours after closing time.
“If you’re going to be serving someone, you have to do it a responsible manner, and they play a role in this tragic death,” said Darryl Thompson, the family’s attorney. “It’s pretty clear this kid was served a lot of booze at Chilkoots.”
It is illegal for bars to serve people who are drunk, under a little-known Alaska law, and illegal for liquor-license holders such as bars and liquor stores to allow a drunken person into their business. Anchorage police briefly tried to use the law to crackdown on closing-time violence in Anchorage in 2012, but prosecutors said the statute can be difficult to enforce when bartenders are busy serving multiple customers.
Chilkoot Charlie’s co-owner Mike Gordon said in an email that the business grieved for the family. He declined to talk in detail about the ongoing civil case but placed responsibility with the young airman.
“We had safety procedures in place that the driver chose not to avail himself of, including a taxi we would have provided and, as I understand it, a military walk-through that night that would have provided him a ride back to (base) as well,” Gordon wrote.
“The big question is what was he doing between the time we closed and when the accident occurred — a period of two hours? That’s a long time,” Gordon added.
A state prosecutor said Wyatt drank at at least two bars that night. JBER officials have refused to say whether they believe Wyatt and his friends drank on base after leaving Chilkoot Charlie’s.
The airman’s blood-alcohol level was .196, more than twice the legal limit to drive, after the crash, prosecutors have said.
Wyatt faces charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, drunken driving and seven counts of assault. The criminal case is scheduled for a March trial.
Wyatt was served with the civil lawsuit Nov. 28 while being held at Goose Creek Correctional Center, court records show.
“The bartender, servers and agents and employees at Chilkoot Charlies acted knowingly or with criminal negligence when they allowed (Wyatt) to enter the licensed premises and when they served him alcohol,” the suit claims.
More recently, Wyatt has been living in Wasilla and working on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to Alaska Pretrial Services. He wears an ankle monitor and must take several Breathalyzer tests a day while out on bail, the nonprofit says.
Wyatt’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
The death of Citari Townes-Sweatt marked the first fatal drunken-driving crash in more than a year, Anchorage police said at the time. Within two months, four more DUI deaths followed.
Originally published January 6, 2014 by KYLE HOPKINS in Anchorage Daily News.