VALRICO — The mother of a 17-year-old killed in a crash two years ago is suing the store that she says sold alcohol to her underage son.
Denise Clark, mother of Tyler Clark, is also suing the woman who owns the house where Tyler drank with friends on Oct. 7, 2006, before driving away in his open-top Jeep with seven other teens. The Jeep hit a median on Bloomingdale Avenue, swerved off the road and struck a tree. Tyler was dead at the scene.
In April, Tara McEntarffer was found not guilty of supplying alcohol to minors, a misdemeanor.
Several of the teens testified that she broke up the party when she came home and found the teens drinking beer.
The judge based his decision on a 1995 Florida Supreme Court ruling that shields adults from liability if they terminate a party and order guests to leave.
But the civil complaint, filed Sept. 9, says Tyler drank with McEntarffer's "knowledge and consent" and that she knew he was going to drive intoxicated. Denise Clark's attorney, Chris Kavouklis, said that's partly based on one witness who testified in April that McEntarffer sat and talked while the teens drank.
"I think we have a strong case that she was, at the very least, negligent," Kavouklis said.
During the April trial, Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Low argued that it wasn't enough for McEntarffer to break up the house party.
She needed to make sure each teen got home safely, Low said, but the judge did not agree that it was her legal responsibility.
Still, Denise Clark and Kavouklis are trying that angle in the civil case. The complaint states at McEntarffer allowed Tyler to leave the house without taking any steps to ensure his safety even though "she knew or should have known that Tyler Clark would operate his motor vehicle intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol."
Clark is seeking more than $15,000 in damages from McEntarffer and the Brandon store that she says sold Tyler alcohol, Beverage Express.
The lawsuit states that a Beverage Express employee either looked at Tyler's driver's license, which showed he was 17, or should have requested it because he looked young. Still, they let him purchase a "significant amount of alcohol," the complaint states.
There was another teen in the store with Tyler, but Kavouklis declined to identify that person or give specifics about the alleged beverage store incident.
An autopsy found that Tyler was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent — above the 0.08 legal limit.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.