John Stroud
Post Independent Staff

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September 27, 2013
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Glenwood Springs restaurant-bar the Bayou hit with wrongful death suit over fatal accident

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A wrongful death lawsuit filed in Garfield District Court on Thursday seeks to hold the Bayou Cajun Restaurant and Bar and at least one of its bartenders responsible for the death of a Carbondale teenager who was killed in an accident on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon last spring.

The parents of 16-year-old Jennifer Nevarez, who was a backseat passenger in the car driven by Brianda Zavala, 18, of Glenwood Springs, claim the bar illegally served Zavala the night of April 13, several hours prior to the accident.

Zavala, Nevarez and another backseat passenger, 24-year-old Albino Ortiz-Monge of Gypsum, were all killed when Zavala’s car crossed the center line in a construction zone and slammed head-on into a semi truck.

The accident occurred at about 5:30 a.m. on April 14, three-and-a-half hours after the bar’s 2 a.m. closing.

A Colorado State Patrol investigation found that all three accident victims still had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit for driving at the time of the accident.

Zavala had more than three times the legal limit, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.241, according to the patrol’s follow-up report.

Witness reports also indicated that the three may have continued drinking at a private residence after leaving the bar.

Nevarez was a sophomore at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale.

According to the lawsuit filed by Nevarez’s parents, Pedro and Elda Nevarez, Zavala’s consumption of alcohol at the bar “caused, or was a substantial cause, of her being intoxicated in the morning hours — when the fatal incident occurred.”

One of the bartenders at the Bayou that night, Denisse Arreola, 26, of El Jebel was recently convicted in Garfield County Court on a misdemeanor charge of providing alcohol to a minor in connection with the incident.

According to the case file, Arreola pleaded no contest to the charge on Sept. 12. She was fined $500, plus court costs totaling an additional $301.50.

Arreola has maintained she did not serve the minors in question that night, and told the Post Independent she does not know how they gained entry into the bar. A “no contest” plea is not an admission of guilt, according to a description of the plea in the court file.

It is, however, an admission that there are facts in the case that, if presented in court, could prove guilt, according to the plea description.

The Bayou, located at 919 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs, is also subject to an ongoing investigation by the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division for allegedly serving both Zavala and Nevarez illegally, because they are under the legal drinking age of 21.

That case is still in the “show cause” phase, according to Colorado Department of Revenue/Liquor Enforcement spokeswoman Daria Serna.

“This is where the business explains to the state why action should not be taken against their liquor license,” she said in an email. “The next step will be the pre-hearing conference, but we are not there yet.”

Bayou owner Steve Behem declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying his lawyer had not yet had a chance to review it and has advised him not to comment.

He did say that he is now planning to sell the restaurant and bar business, and will be having a 29th “and final” anniversary party on Oct. 18.

“That’s a long time to be in this industry, and I can’t wait for the next chapter to begin,” Behem said.

The Bayou was also formally reprimanded by liquor authorities last year, for allegedly serving minors on two occasions in June 2011 and in November 2011, according to a complaint issued by city of Glenwood Springs officials.

Following a hearing, the bar had its liquor license suspended for five days and was fined $939. An additional 30-day liquor license suspension was put off for a year, under the condition that there be no more violations of liquor codes.

The Nevarez lawsuit requests a jury trial to determine damages.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 27, 2013 12:27PM Published Sep 30, 2013 02:53PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.