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Published: Friday, 11/18/2005

Death case dismissed against city police bar

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The Toledo Police Patrolman's Association yesterday essentially pleaded no contest to two liquor code violations of serving alcohol to nonmembers at its lounge.

But a more serious allegation of serving a visibly intoxicated civilian dispatcher who was killed in a car accident on his way home was dismissed because investigators couldn't get other patrons present that night, including police officers, to testify to that effect.

The association's lounge will have to wait until Nov. 29 to learn its punishment from the Ohio Liquor Control Commission, whose choices range from no penalty to permanent revocation of its private club liquor permit.

"Police officers are some of the most difficult people to interview,'' said Earl Mark, agent-in-charge of enforcement in the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Toledo investigative unit.

"We were kind of disappointed in the information we received, at least from one police officer who was present that night but would not come forward about what really happened,'' he said.

"That's something he's going to have to live with. My agents did an excellent job with their investigation,'' Mr. Mark said.

Ronald D. Navarro II, 30, son of police Lt. Ronald Navarro, died from injuries suffered about 1 a.m. on March 28 after leaving the lounge at 1947 Franklin Ave.

His car ran a red light, left the road, jumped a curb, and struck a building at 1717 Monroe St. His blood alcohol level was 0.35 percent, more than four times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The 550-member patrolman's association opted not to challenge the accusation that it had served alcohol to a nonmember.

The union's attorney, Jay Feldstein, told the commission it could not meet the legal requirement of presenting Mr. Navarro's original membership application, though he said the patrolman's association had found membership renewals.

The association also didn't challenge a separate violation of serving a nonmember again after undercover agents from the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Toledo investigative unit posed as customers almost three months after the fatal accident. The follow-up investigation was requested by Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre.

The lounge's three violations were apparently the first in its permit's 20-year history.

"I'm happy it's over,'' said Lieutenant Navarro, the victim's father.

"I want to forget about it and get my life moving forward with my son's children. Our lives will go on,'' the lieutenant said.

The lounge has been closed for two months, but its permit remains active. President Gregg Harris characterized the closing as temporary.

"We've had some issues that we're resolving,'' he said.

A civil lawsuit in the case remains a possibility. The two-year statute of limitations will expire in March.

"Every member of TPPA has nothing but the utmost sympathy and condolences for the Navarro family,'' said Mr. Feldstein after the commission hearing.

During the hearing, he said the lounge serves as a place for members of the police union to relax without fear of running into people they've dealt with on the street.

Mr. Mack said an organization consisting of police officers has an even higher duty to ensure that an intoxicated person doesn't leave the bar and get behind the wheel.

"I hope the operators of that lounge really look at this situation and learn,'' Mr. Mack said.

"That young man lost his own life, but God knows what would have happened if someone had been coming across the light he ran,'' Mr. Mack said.



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