A D.C. Superior Court jury awarded $1,076,000 yesterday to three victims of the 1977 firebombing of the Shepherd Park Restaurant, an incident that fatally injured one man, hurt more than a dozen other patrons and caused about $50,000 in damage to the Northwest Washington go-go club.
The fire occurred after an alleged racial incident in which three patrons were asked to leave the bar and at least one allegedly returned and threw a container of gasoline and a match into the club, which was crowded with more than 100 persons, according to police accounts.
During the month-long trial, an attorney for the plaintiffs said, three of the victims -- Brenda E. Freeny, a costume designer who worked at the club; Michael Elvin, a patron, and Elaine Burbank, a dancer -- alleged that the club had been negligent in blocking exits, not fireproofing drapes, covering up windows, locking a rear door with a padlock and allowing the bar to become overcrowded.
"They incited a riot, they knew it was coming," said attorney Aaron M. Levine, indicating that he was satisfied with the award. The jury ruled in the case against KGS Inc., the corporation that owned the bar; its principal stockholder, Behnam Ebrahini Zanganeh, and lawyer Louis N. Nichols, a director of the bar, according to court papers.
Freeny was awarded $500,000; Burbank, $220,000, and Elvin, $350,000. The jury also awarded each $2,000 in punitive damages, which were assessed against KGS Inc. and Zanganeh.
"It won't give me my face back," said Freeny, indicating severe facial scars. She said her medical bills totaled more than $100,000. After the trial before Judge Sylvia Bacon, many of the jurors joined Freeny and Elvin in the corridor and in an emotional scene, embraced them and wished them well. Attorneys for the bar and its owner declined comment.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of the man who died of injuries suffered in the incident, Edward L. Williams, 19, of Silver Spring, was settled out of court, Levine said.
According to police accounts, the firebombing occurred after three young black men were ejected from the club. Someone then threw the gasoline and match into the bar and the restaurant exploded in flames. With the front door in flames and the rear door locked, most of the customers escaped through a side door. One man was arrested and charged with homicide by arson in connection with the incident, but it could not be learned whether he ever was prosecuted.