State investigating Sharkeez DUI data

A letter from the Huntington Beach police chief has sparked an investigation into Baja Sharkeez in downtown Huntington Beach, according to authorities.

The Department of Alcohol Beverage Control is looking into what seems to be an excessive problem with alcohol-related issues spilling over to the city’s streets, said spokesman John Carr.

Lana Dang, a program technician at the department’s Santa Ana office, confirmed that an investigation into the restaurant and bar was launched Jan. 21.

The investigation began after Police Chief Ken Small on Nov. 11 sent a letter to Dan Hart, the state department’s district administrator in Santa Ana, regarding the number of drunk drivers who come out of Sharkeez.

“We’re looking into the concerns outlined by the chief and we plan to keep the chief informed on how we plan to address those concerns,” Carr said. “If the chief has concerns, we have concerns.”

Seventy-two Sharkeez customers were arrested for drinking and driving during a 22-month period, producing the highest number of drunk drivers when compared to other downtown establishments that serve alcohol, according to DUI arrest data complied by the Police Department, Small said.

Hurricanes Bar & Grill was second with 52 drunk drivers, and Killarney Pub & Grill was third with 33 in the same time period, Small said.

Police ask drivers arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence where they were drinking before they got in the car, he said. The police department notified Sharkeez each time a DUI arrest was made involving someone who was drinking there, Small said.

The numbers are a reflection of Sharkeez’ careless outlook on the danger of drunk driving, Small wrote in the letter.

“I believe the ownership and management of the establishment represent, at best, an indifferent attitude toward public safety,” Small wrote.

Owner Ron Newman said the numbers can’t be linked directly to Sharkeez.

“What happens on the highway, we cannot control,” Newman said. “We don’t serve anybody that’s overly intoxicated. I can’t tell if you had two or three drinks. If you’re not obviously intoxicated, we can’t tell. If someone is obviously intoxicated, we cut them off.”

Newman said the police and downtown citizens’ groups are going after Sharkeez because of its popularity. He added that police officers are usually stationed outside his restaurant in Huntington Beach waiting to arrest patrons.

Newman said customers who were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence could have stopped somewhere else and had more drinks or could have been at the Newport Beach location.

Newman said there were no problems at the other four locations he owns, including Newport Beach’s.

“We have a perfect record inside the operation,” he said.