Both sides agree that it was a terrible tragedy the night Christopher Torrence drunkenly drove his high-end Mercedes down North Boulevard at about 125 MPH and crashed, killing himself and one of his passengers and crippling another.
Now a Montgomery County Circuit jury is being asked to decide who is to blame for the accident: Celebrations, the popular Vaughn Road nightclub where the three crash victims had been drinking just before the crash, or the three young people themselves for engaging in reckless behavior.
That’s how lawyers framed their arguments Wednesday during opening statements in a civil lawsuit filed against Celebrations by Meghan Worley, who was paralyzed in the accident; her parents; and James Monroe, whose daughter, Lindsey Nicole Monroe, died that night. They are seeking a “substantial” amount in compensatory and punitive damages, their attorney said.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Les Pittman of Jere Beasley’s law firm, told jurors he would prove Celebrations violated the state’s dram shop laws by continuing to serve drinks to Torrence after he was “visibly intoxicated.”
Torrence, 22, had spent about two hours drinking at Celebrations – where he was a regular customer – during the early morning hours of July 28, 2000, and had run up a $38 bar tab of 10 drinks, Pittman said. Torrence’s blood-alcohol content after the crash was .18 percent, more than twice the .08 level the state considers drunk, said Montgomery police Cpl. Ronnie Spivey, who investigated the crash.
Monroe and Worley, both 20, also were at Celebrations, drinking, dancing and “having a good time,” Pittman said. The three left the bar at about 2:15 a.m. when Torrence offered to take the girls for a ride in his new car, a 1994 Mercedes 600S sports coupe with a 400-horsepower engine.
William Abrams testified he was driving with his family on North Boulevard when the Mercedes passed his car going between 110 and 130 miles per hour. The car was weaving in and out between other cars before Torrence lost control, Abrams said. The vehicle flipped end-over-end seven times, ejecting all three passengers, before coming to a rest in the woods.
Torrence and Monroe died at the scene. Worley barely survived the crash, but suffered a blood clot in her brain, among other injuries, and remains paralyzed.
“The mistake was made by Chris and these two young women, who made a terrible, unfortunate decision to ride with him,” said defense attorney Dan Taliaferro.
The three were part of a group of friends that often parties together using drugs and alcohol, Taliaferro said.
Torrence’s bar tab at Celebrations did include 10 drinks, but he only drank three beers at the club that night. The other drinks were for friends, including a round of atomic plums for Worley and Monroe, both of whom had fake IDs, were legally drink, and had taken the prescription drug Xanax, Taliaferro said.
They both knew of Torrence’s habit of fast, reckless driving, Taliaferro said. His driving record includes 11 speeding tickets, the attorney told Judge Charles Price before the jury entered the courtroom. Price will rule later whether to allow Torrence’s driving record into evidence.
The trial is expected to last at least through Friday.