Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Valrico woman, boyfriend not guilty of giving alcohol to teens

PLANT CITY — When Tara McEntarffer and her boyfriend returned to her Valrico home after dinner that night, she found her son and about 10 other teenagers drinking beer.

The Bloomingdale High School students didn't hide the Natural Light they were drinking, and McEntarffer, 43, told them to leave.

Because she broke up the underage-drinking party when she got home, she and her boyfriend, Lamar Justice, aren't to blame for the Oct. 7, 2006, party where teens consumed alcohol before a deadly crash, a county judge ruled Friday.

After the party, eight teens squeezed into 17-year-old Tyler Clark's open-top Jeep. The Jeep hit a median on Bloomingdale Avenue and swerved off the road and into a tree. Tyler was pronounced dead at the scene. Seven others were injured.

Authorities said Tyler's consumption of alcohol was a contributing factor in the crash.

In July, the State Attorney's Office charged McEntarffer and Justice with misdemeanors, saying they were suspected of supplying alcohol to minors. The charge carried a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and $500 in fines. But the teens who testified Friday said they didn't receive beer from the couple.

County Judge Art McNeil acquitted both adults after a half-day trial. He based his decision on a 1995 Florida Supreme Court ruling that shields adults from liability if they terminate a party and order the guests to leave.

But that's not enough, said Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Low. She said McEntarffer and Justice should have made sure the teens got home safely.

"Did they offer to drive you home? Did they call cabs?" she asked witness Nicholas Baldwin, 19, who was at the party.

"No," he answered.

The five teens called to the stand told stories that were often conflicting.

Ryan Caldwell, 18, said he didn't remember seeing anyone inside the house. But the four other witnesses said people were inside and on the back porch. Baldwin said they left right after McEntarffer told them to go, but Morgan Blazek, 18, said they finished their cigarettes and beer.

Christopher Terlizzi, 17, who was in the Jeep when it crashed, said he never heard McEntarffer tell them to leave. He said he had a normal conversation with his friend's mom and soon after hopped into Tyler's Jeep to go to another party.

The teens who testified said they couldn't recall many details about that Saturday night. Some said they suffered head trauma.

But Ron Darrigo, the attorney for Tyler's estate, said the teens were hedging. He said the state might have heard different stories had it conducted depositions before the nonjury trial.

"They could have remembered what happened," he said.

Denise Clark, Tyler's mother, sat in the front row dabbing her eyes with a tissue as witnesses gave testimony about the party that her son attended shortly before he was killed.

An autopsy concluded that Tyler was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent. State law presumes a driver is impaired at 0.08 percent and above. Because he was younger than 21, Tyler was not legally allowed to have alcohol.

The crash never came up during the trial, save one slip from Assistant State Attorney Low. Judge McNeil said he didn't want the events after the party to influence his decision.

Still, the questions about how the night began — with quarts of beer and 12-packs of Natural Light — brought together many of the teens who were in the Jeep, some still bearing scars.

Several have kept in touch; others haven't. But outside the courtroom, they smiled at and talked to one another. After the trial, several left together, saying they were happy with the outcome.

Though the criminal trial is over, Denise Clark hasn't given up. She plans to lobby for a change in the state's statute on open house parties.

The statute has been interpreted by a lower court to mean that adults should take steps to ensure that minors get home safely, but the Florida Supreme Court disagreed with that interpretation. Now it's up to legislators to change the statute, said Darrigo, the Clarks' attorney.

The teens who were in the Jeep and their families have not filed civil complaints, but they'll come, Darrigo said. Some of the victims' parents were planning to file lawsuits against McEntarffer and Justice, he said, but that will be harder for the witnesses who said the couple broke up the party when they returned home.

"They're kind of locked into what they said," he said.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

Valrico woman, boyfriend not guilty of giving alcohol to teens 04/11/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 8:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rick Pitino officially fired by Louisville amid federal corruption probe

    College

    In an expected move, the University of Louisville Athletic Association's Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to fire men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The decision came 19 days after Louisville acknowledged that its men's basketball program was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe and …

    In this Oct. 20, 2016, file photo, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's Athletic Association on Monday officially fired Pitino, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe. [AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]
  2. Editorial: Trump uses Americans' health care as bargaining chip

    Editorials

    Unable to persuade Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump appears determined to do the dirty work himself. The president's unilateral actions are aimed at driving up premiums, steering healthy people away from the federal marketplace and ensuring his inaccurate description of the law as a …

    Unable to persuade Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump appears determined to do the dirty work himself.
  3. Port Richey fire chief charged with DUI, hitting a cop in the face

    Crime

    PORT RICHEY — The Port Richey fire chief crashed a motorcycle, showed signs of impairment and hit a New Port Richey police officer in the face after being taken to the hospital Sunday night, according to a police report.

    A screenshot from the web site of Little Corona's Cigar Lounge, owned by Port Richey Fire Chief Timothy Fussell, who was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and battery on a law enforcement officer Sunday night.
  4. Trump: Cuba 'is responsible' for attacks on U.S. personnel

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he believes Cuba "is responsible" for attacks on American government personnel in Havana.

    President Donald Trump answers questions as he speaks with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., in the rose Garden after their meeting at the White House, Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington. [Associated Press]
  5. Sports anchor Tom Korun leaving WFTS after decades in Tampa Bay TV

    Blogs

    WFTS ABC Action News sports anchor and director Tom Korun is retiring from broadcasting after more than 14 years at the station and 31 years on Tampa Bay TV screens.

    Tom Korun is retiring after 31 years on Tampa Bay television.