Over-serving bar patrons a serious threat to public safety

Mark Willingham Uncategorized

Over-serving bar patrons a serious threat to public safety

We applaud a new police initiative at Hampton Beach to go after bars that over-serve patrons, and hope it spreads to our communities.



July 21, 2015

We applaud a new police initiative at Hampton Beach to go after bars that over-serve patrons, and hope it spreads to our communities. The threat to public safety is very real and any action that keeps one more drunk from driving away after a night of alcohol excess to kill or maim innocent people has our fullest support.


Hampton Police Chief Richard Sawyer announced last week that his department will be working with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission to perform undercover stings at area bars this summer to ensure they are following the rules.


We hope the Hampton initiative will spread to local police departments in the Dover, Somersworth, Rochester and Durham areas. In fact, we hope local police chiefs will be pounding on the door of the State Liquor Commission to get the same kind of help Hampton is seeking. Drunken driving isn’t just a tourist town problem. It’s a deadly problem everywhere.


Take Rollinsford for instance. It’s a small community with just a few bars, but on July 20, 2013, something terrible happened. A Somersworth man who had been drinking at the Rollinsford American Legion at 319 Foundry St. left the bar, got into his vehicle and struck four cars in the Legion parking lot. Then, he drove to nearby Route 4 where he tried to pass another vehicle. His vehicle ended up striking a car carrying a young couple from Minnesota who were on their honeymoon. The bride, 30-year-old Leah Fonda-Preiss died. Her husband survived, but was badly injured.


The drunken driver, Matthew Tsopas, 45, pleaded guilty to 14 charges relating to the crash, including manslaughter. He’s in the state prison.


Two years after the crash, the State Liquor Commission’s Division of Enforcement and Licensing finally levied its punishment on the American Legion for serving Tsopas. The Legion ended up paying a $1,500 fine and was ordered closed for one week. Employees and managers there were also ordered to attend training seminars relating to liquor sales.


There was some outrage at the time about the Legion getting off lightly. The bride’s uncle expressed surprise at the $1,500 fine and said his home state of Minnesota comes down much heavier on bars that over-serve.


He made a compelling point. The highest fine the Legion could have gotten in the Tsopas case was $5,000. Even that seems like a paltry sum when you consider that Leah Fonda-Preiss, just 30 years old with her whole life ahead of her, is gone forever.


We do acknowledge that we were not privy to all the information the Division of Enforcement and Licensing had before it rendered sanctions against the Legion. It could be that Tsopas was drinking elsewhere before he ended up at the Legion and that his level of intoxication was not obvious when he was imbibing there.


Regardless, we think the Liquor Commission and the New Hampshire Legislature need to take a closer look at the fines and sanctions for over-serving to determine if the punishments are harsh enough. And, we’d like to see New Hampshire police chiefs involved in that process.


In the meantime, police and liquor enforcement officers should use the rules we already have in place to stop drinking establishments from over-serving. Make no mistake. It’s not just happening in Hampton Beach. It’s happening in Dover, Rochester, Somersworth, Durham and elsewhere.


We do not want to see anyone die in an alcohol-related accident here because a driver was allowed to sit at a local bar and drink himself into a stupor. Stepped up enforcement and education initiatives should reach beyond the beach.