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Suit Names 2 Restaurants in Youth’s Death : Courts: Parents claim driver of car in fatal crash was served alcohol despite being underage. The allegations are denied.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The parents of an 18-year-old Huntington Beach youth killed in a car crash have sued two local restaurants, alleging that they negligently served alcohol to the underaged driver of the car.

Christopher Clarke died last summer when a car driven by an 18-year-old boyhood friend plunged off Ortega Highway.

His parents, Kevin and Lynn Clarke, are seeking unspecified damages from DP’s Pub and Grill in Newport Beach and Mario’s restaurant in Huntington Beach.

The Huntington Beach couple claim in the wrongful death lawsuit that employees at the two restaurants served alcohol to the driver of the car, Bryan J. Martin, before the crash in the early morning hours of Aug. 17. They further allege Martin was served alcohol while he was “obviously intoxicated.”

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Los Angeles attorney Peter T. Cathcart, who is representing the Clarke family, said it appears the two youths were not asked for identification at either establishment.

But one restaurant owner denied the allegations, saying his employees ask everyone for identification.

“As far as I know they absolutely were carded and they had false identification,” said Rusty Vasterling, co-owner of DP’s Pub and Grill, who said he has spearheaded a local effort to train restaurant employees about identifying minors. “I am extremely proactive in this minor identification and serving awareness.”

Diana Valenzuela--whose father, Mario Valenzuela, owns the Huntington Beach restaurant--said she hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on it. But she said the restaurant would never serve a minor unless false identification had been used.

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“We card everybody, just about,” she said.

Under state law, bars and other establishments can be held liable if they serve alcohol to minors who get drunk and later become involved in an accident, Cathcart said.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, also names the holders of the liquor licenses for the two establishments as defendants.

Christopher Clarke died at the scene of the 1:45 a.m. crash after the car being driven by his longtime friend tumbled about 300 feet off a dark, curvy section of Ortega Highway near San Juan Capistrano. It is one of the deadliest stretches of roadway in the county.

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Christopher Clarke, who had been working part time at a Domino’s Pizza, had graduated from Edison High School in Huntington Beach earlier that summer and was planning to take classes at Orange Coast College.

Martin, 18, of Fountain Valley, was injured in the crash and arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and felony drunk driving. He later pleaded guilty to a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and felony drunk driving and served a six-month jail sentence at Huntington Beach City Jail, according to court records.

The Clarke family is seeking compensation for funeral, burial and memorial expenses and general damages, Cathcart said.

“In this society we do have an obligation to protect what are considered to be a group of people who don’t necessarily make intelligent and mature decisions,” Cathcart said. “When you are serving alcohol, obviously the effects of that can be devastating.”

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California Highway Patrol officials said at the time of the crash that Martin was speeding east around a corner when he apparently lost control of his 1981 Pontiac Firebird along a segment of the highway without guardrails. The car went off the side of the two-lane road, overturning several times.

Christopher Clarke, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car as it tumbled, the CHP said. Authorities found Martin, still conscious, at the bottom of the steep slope. He had been wearing a seat belt.

Martin and Christopher Clarke had been friends since the early 1980s when they lived in the same Fountain Valley neighborhood. Both had attended First Southern Baptist School.


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