The only real awkward moment during Liquor Control Director Franklyn Silva’s luncheon speech before the Kiwanis Club on Oct. 19 came when one member asked him if he’d ever been sued. “I’m being sued right now, but I’m not supposed to talk about it,” Silva said. “This is the first time.”
The case concerns a Feb 20, 2004 traffic fatality. According to case records filed with the U.S. District Court, that night Carolann Sabatino was out with her employer and some friends on a catamaran, booze cruise-type excursion aboard the Ali`i Nui, which sails from Ma`alaea Harbor. People seemed to have a good time and, when the ship returned to the dock, they headed their separate ways.
The problem was that Sabatino was so wasted that on the drive home she killed Stephan Bournakel in a traffic accident. He was a young Maui doctor whose wife was at home with their one-month old baby.
This happened two and a half years ago, and it was undoubtedly a horror for everyone involved. The victim’s family is still in court and Sabatino is serving 20 years behind bars.
The case exemplifies a few interesting Maui County liquor law conundrums. Is it okay to sell people an open bar on a boat? Who’s responsible for the drivers who leave the party? Is a sunset cruise more like a luau, wedding or bar?
It’s not a subtle distinction; each has its own sets of liquor rules. For instance, Moose McGillycuddy’s in Lahaina can’t sell you a ticket for an open bar, but the booze cruises down the street can.
Jane Lovell, a Chief Litigator for the Corporation Counsel of Maui County, says excursions can have open bars because they’re often snorkeling-related and people don’t want to run the risk of losing their wallets and purses overboard. But on the other hand, Michael Green, the attorney who represents the victim Bournakel’s wife and son says it’s amazing more people haven’t been killed after booze cruises. “In all these years, they were lucky,” he said.
According to Senior U.S. District Judge Alan C. Kay, the Maui County laws actually make all booze cruises illegal (County officials have been loath to use the term “booze cruise,” but court records show that Judge Kay did a “basic internet search for ‘Booze Cruise Maui’ and found numerous offers and customer reviews of such cruises”).
Specifically, Kay’s March 23, 2006 finding says an ocean tour vessel can’t have an open bar where the public can attend. Though the regulations say luaus, champagne brunches and private events are still kosher.
The rule against open bars “was never intended to apply to vessels which serve liquor,” LC Deputy Director Wayne Pagan said in an affidavit to the District Court in February of this year.
Moreover, an officer from the Ali`i Nui crew says that LC inspectors haven’t enforced the open bar rule. The Ali`i Nui crewmember told the court that a county inspector said that including liquor in the price of the ticket was within the rules.
Judge Kay ruled that though this may be true, the law is written as it’s written, and that’s that. The judge wrote in his findings that the current regulations and lack of enforcement represent “grave risks for the general public that the Maui County Liquor rules are designed to prevent.”
And that means the County may be liable. What’s more, LC Director Silva and Deputy Director Pagan have also been served, though the Maui County Council will soon consider indemnifying them since their involvement in the case took place as part of official County business. Should that happen, us Joe Taxpayers will have to buck-up, though there are settlement talks even as this story goes to press.