A Hooters restaurant faces the possible loss of its alcohol license for allegedly over-serving a drunk customer before he drove off and fatally struck a Montgomery County police officer north of Washington late last year, alcohol regulators wrote in documents mailed to the restaurant this week.
Representatives from Hooters are due at a show-cause hearing, now set for June 16, before the Montgomery County Board of License Commissioners.
“You are being charged with allowing a person to be served and/or consume alcoholic beverages past the point of intoxication on Dec. 3, 2015,” Kathie Durbin, chief of licensure, regulation and education for the county’s liquor control department, wrote in a Tuesday letter to the Hooters licensees.
A spokeswoman for the Hooters chain declined to comment Wednesday, saying Hooters had not yet received the notice from the liquor board.
After leaving the Hooters on Dec. 3, the customer, Luis Reluzco, 47, drove north on Rockville Pike. At the time, the officer — Noah Leotta, 24 — had pulled over a different vehicle on Rockville Pike and gotten out of his police car. Leotta was working on a special holiday task force designed to find drunk drivers.
Reluzco’s SUV struck Leotta’s police car and then hit Leotta, who died a week later at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. Reluzco was tested and found to have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.22. The legal limit is 0.08.
Reluzco has pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in the case and is awaiting sentencing.
Over the past two years, according to Montgomery alcohol regulators, about 12 establishments have been cited for over-serving intoxicated patrons. Of those, three have had their liquor licenses revoked, Durbin said. Two others had their licenses suspended. The fines levied in the cases generally ranged from $1,000 to $10,000, Durbin said.
Establishing that a bar has violated liquor regulations by serving a drunk person can be difficult, Durbin said.
Many times, intoxicated people are good at disguising their condition, and restaurant and bar workers say they didn’t know the person was drunk, Durbin said.
She said some people who have been drinking for many years may have learned to mask their inebriation — at least outwardly — and appear to function normally. “That’s become an issue,” Durbin said.
It can also be difficult to establish that employees at bars and restaurants saw someone drinking alcohol, she said, adding that even bar tabs can be inconclusive because a customer may have been buying drinks for others.
“It’s a difficult case to make,” Durbin said. “But it’s not impossible.”