ABC Commission rejects Chapel Hill bar’s compromise in drunk driving case

La Residence in Chapel Hill.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina ABC Commission on Wednesday rejected an “Offer in Compromise” with La Residence after the bar served a UNC student who drove drunk and killed three people.

The commission said the $5,000 fine or a 50-day suspension was not a strong enough punishment for the Chapel Hill bar, which was found negligent for serving Chandler Kania before he crashed his Jeep while driving the wrong way on Interstate 85 in July.

Chandler Kania
PHOTOS: UNC student Chandler Kania in crash

Kania, 20, is accused of driving drunk and causing a triple-fatal wrong way crash.

Two bars, He’s Not Here and La Residence, both received notices of allegations on Sept. 2 that contained compromises by the ABC Commission.

The compromises are the commission’s suggestion for punishment.

The commission proposed that La Residence’s ABC permits should be suspended for 50 days starting Nov. 13, or the bar and restaurant could pay $5,000 before Nov. 6. La Residence had signed an “Offer in Compromise” agreeing to either pay the fine or serve the suspension. On Wednesday, the commission rejected the offer, saying the punishment was not strong enough.

“The way the offer was framed this time, they had the option of paying the penalty or serving the suspension so a way to strengthen it would be to require a suspension of some period,” said Agnes Stevens, NC ABC Public Affairs Director. “I think it’s clear that the commission is taking a strong position and wants to be sure that people are mindful of the laws.”

An ABC spokesman said it’s pretty rare for the commission to send back a settlement offer.

“I personally don’t feel the penalty has been strong enough, and I’d like the staff to go back and renegotiate a new offer in compromise,” said Kevin Green, ABC Commissioner.

Attorney Syd Alexander, who is representing La Residence, said he was “very surprised” by the ABC Commission’s decision.

“We had negotiated the agreement that was put before the commission this morning,” Alexander, a Chapel Hill attorney, told WNCN. “I was assured that it would be accepted, it’s a very standard agreement given the circumstances.”

He called the investigation “highly sensitive” but said the bar has cooperated completely, turning over video and cash receipts.

“Mr. Kania does not appear anywhere on the video, there are no charge receipts in his name, no cash receipts in his name,” Alexander said. “That’s not to say he wasn’t there, but there’s just very little information out there at this point. And of course, you’ve got this incredible tragedy so it’s a high-profile case.”

La Residence did have a violation for selling to a person underage dating to April 1, 2010, and faced a $2,400 fine. La Residence also had a violation from Feb. 7, 2008, for underage possession/consumption and paid a $900 fine.

Alexander, the attorney, said, “You look at the history of La Residence -they had liquor licenses for 25 years and have four minor violations in the past. But it’s a very tough situation for everybody, I think.”

Alexander said the well-known bar and restaurant would not be in danger of closing down if the alcohol permits were suspended. But he said it would have an impact on special events hosted at La Residence like dinners and wedding events.

He hopes to have a new agreement negotiated before the ABC Commission’s next board meeting on Nov. 18.

Police said Kania was also served alcohol at another Chapel Hill bar He’s Not Here. The ABC Commission has recommended that the bar surrender its license on or before Nov. 6.

He’s Not Here is not on the commission’s October agenda. The commission has not received a signed Offer in Compromise from that establishment. The case will likely be heard by an administrative law judge, but the judge’s calendar has not yet been set.

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