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Michael’s liquor license suspended 50 days as a result of fatal car crash

“This is most serious one I’ve been involved with over the years. It’s a real concern. Obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, lying to police — I’ve never encountered that before.” -- Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh

Stockbridge — Michael’s Restaurant had its liquor license suspended today (April 27) for a total of 50 days by the Board of Selectmen because last April it served liquor to two men who, less than 17 minutes after they the left the restaurant, were involved in a Great Barrington car crash that killed one of the car’s three occupants.

Michael Abdallah Jr.
Michael Abdallah Jr.

The suspension was also handed down because, police say, after the accident Michael’s owner, Michael Abdalla Jr., tried to erase the restaurant’s video surveillance, then misled and lied to police about it. This prompted the board to give Abdalla a 30-day suspension that won’t be imposed for 60 days to give time for an appeal process, and to begin after the first two 10-day suspensions each for the violations of serving to a minor and to an intoxicated person.

Abdalla was indicted in October 2015 on the obstruction of justice charge. It landed him on probation and with a fine of $5,000 to be given to a Berkshire County organization involved in drinking or drug issues. He pleaded guilty but the case was “continued without finding.”

Abdalla will have to make his appeal within 5 days to the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) to set that process in motion, something that is usually decided within weeks, said the town’s attorney J. Raymond Miyares of Miyares and Harrington. The board will also require periodic unannounced inspections of the restaurant’s video surveillance by Stockbridge Police.

Officers Timothy Ullrich and Samuel Stolzar. Ullrich was first at the scene of the accident. Stolzar led the investigation into the video surveillance. Photo: Heather Bellow
Officers Timothy Ullrich and Samuel Stolzar. Ullrich was first at the scene of the accident. Stolzar led the investigation into the video surveillance. Photo: Heather Bellow

The video surveillance was eventually fully recovered, said Abdalla’s attorney Jeffrey T. Scrimo. And, according to Great Barrington Police Officer Samuel Stolzar, that video shows Matthew Moriarty, 20 at the time, being served across the bar.

Moriarty, of Great Barrington, was seriously injured in the East Street accident in which the car he was riding in struck a utility pole. Kyle Bailey, 22 at the time, was driving the car and, according to video and bar receipts, had been served three beers and one shot at Michael’s that night, still drinking his last beer at 11:26, and leaving the restaurant at around 11:31 pm. The 911 call came in at 11:48. All these times were converted to daylight savings, something Abdalla said was the reason for an accidental erase of video surveillance.

Bailey, of Glendale, whose blood alcohol level early that morning was .17, is now serving four years in the House of Corrections as a result of the accident that killed Garrett Norton of Housatonic. The three Monument Mountain Regional High School graduates were out on Easter weekend. Bailey at the time was a student at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

The board voted unanimously on the violations and penalties, except in one instance. Ernest “Chuck” Cardillo was uncomfortable with the allegation that Michael’s had served an intoxicated person, since Scrimo said that, on video, Bailey did not appear intoxicated and, further, it is well known that Bailey’s car was full of open and unopened beer cans, marijuana, and a smoking device.

Stockbridge Selectman Ernest 'Chuck' Cardillo. Photo: Heather Bellow
Stockbridge Selectman Ernest ‘Chuck’ Cardillo. Photo: Heather Bellow

“I just don’t know how you separate all that,” Cardillo said.

All of it littered the road at the scene of the accident and was also found in the car. Further, the video shows Norton setting his beer down at a table before leaving with the others, indicating, Scrimo said, that the three may have gone to the car to drink or smoke before returning to the restaurant, which the three did.

Scrimo made a big point of this to the board. “The video really speaks for itself. Throughout they walk, they talk, they interact without assistance from others, using phones and fine motor movements, never drop anything, no one looks drunk.”

“We don’t know what they did when they left,” he added. “I’m not speculating…I don’t think it’s a big stretch to know what they were doing.”

Scrimo had ordered the sequence of events in the video for the board. He urged them to watch it.

Michael's attorney Jeffrey T. Scrimo explaining the layout of Michael's and how Moriarty was served alcohol. Photo: Heather Bellow
Michael’s attorney Jeffrey T. Scrimo explaining the layout of Michael’s and how Moriarty was served alcohol. Photo: Heather Bellow

He further noted the “unspeakable magnitude” of the “tragedy” that night. He explained that the family has owned Michael’s since 1981, that all bartenders are TIPS alcohol certified, and that they are “conscious and provide reminders not to over serve.” The default screen saver on the restaurant’s computers, he said, say “card everyone.” He added that only about 5 percent of customers are in the 21-25 age range, and that the restaurant has “steadily decreased its nighttime hours” in recent years.

Scrimo also referred to a Supreme Judicial Court case that said a restaurant is not liable if the customers aren’t served directly by the restaurant. This was before, he said, he had had a chance to review the video in which Moriarty appears. This argument of Scrimo’s went out the window when Officer Stolzar said the video, which he viewed in the District Attorney’s office, showed Moriarty being served across the bar. Scrimo had maintained that Moriarty was given alcohol only by Bailey.

Scrimo said his client “made a mistake but had nothing to do whatsoever with what happened to those individuals” after they left. “He took responsibility for it, he’s been punished for it, he’s going to be punished for it.”

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh
Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh. Photo: Heather Bellow

Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh was not pleased. He said he had called Abdalla the afternoon of the accident to “make sure the film was safe and sound,” that he would be coming for it. “Right from day one he was put on notice about expectations for cooperation…”

Walsh further said there was other evidence, namely video surveillance of Bailey’s car driving on the wrong side of the road at Belcher Square in Great Barrington and at high speeds, blowing past a turn to drop off one of his passengers. “To say that what happened at Michael’s had no influence on the ride home….it’s soft peddling. It’s not accurate.”

Walsh said Abdalla’s $5,000 fine or donation was a “very good deal,” and he wants to deter people from doing what he says Abdalla did.

“This is the most serious one I’ve been involved with over the years,” Walsh said. “It’s a real concern. Obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, lying to police — I’ve never encountered that before.”

But also complicating matters is the unconfirmed possibility that Moriarty used a fake identification, which Scrimo says police found on him at the scene.

Selectman Stephen Shatz wondered if that was an excuse.

Kelly Abdalla. Photo: Heather Bellow
Kelly Abdalla. Photo: Heather Bellow

And Chair Charles Gillett asked Abdalla if he had received previous reprimands regarding alcohol. After consulting with Scrimo, Abdalla said he had.

Then Abdalla’s wife, Kelly, stood up. She acknowledged the seriousness of what had happened that night. She said she and her husband and four children rely on the restaurant for their living and that trouble with the liquor license spells disaster. “This is our bread and butter. I bartend myself…we took this situation very seriously. This is our livelihood. We have 4 single moms, bartenders who would be out of work. One woman –– that’s how she pays her mortgage. Keep in mind that this will affect a lot of lives.”

She added that the restaurant had only received two previous notices of violations, one in 2002 and 2005. “That’s a long time ago… though nothing’s ever gonna take back the lives of Garrett and all other families that were involved.”

“In last 35 years I don’t think I’ve come in here once,” Michael Abdalla said, noting how many people have passed through his restaurant over the years. “I can’t control the drugs and everything that goes on around here…the last DWI statement that was sent to Michael’s was in 2014. I’ve had five in last 10 years.”

Stockbridge Board of Selectmen, from left: Earnest Cardillo, Chuck Gillett and Stephen Shatz. Photo: Heather Bellow
Stockbridge Board of Selectmen, from left: Ernest Cardillo, Chuck Gillett and Stephen Shatz. Photo: Heather Bellow

Shatz said “there were at least 10 in the previous 10 years.”

Abdalla said he “wouldn’t’ dispute it but it didn’t come to me in the mail.”

Gillett read two letters in support of Michael’s from the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce, saying how important the restaurant is to the town and its frequent tour bus traffic.

And, in the end, it was the tampering with video surveillance and trying to pull a fast one on the police that sealed Abdalla’s fate.

“It’s the most troubling of all the charges,” Shatz said. “The integrity of license holders is key. I don’t care what kind of public license…it’s clear that he lied and he breached his obligations of honesty.”

Also challenging about this violation, Shatz added, is that there are no guidelines for penalties. It was Shatz who came up with the 30-day suspension, to which someone in the audience said, “you can’t be serious?”

Kelly Abdalla said to give her husband some credit. “Three days before court order…Michael willingly handed everything over to police. He realized — he was in a panic.”

Gillett said it was fortunate the video was recovered, and looking straight at Abdalla, said he was troubled by the attempts to erase the film. “I can’t imagine doing that myself, not that I’m pure as the driven snow.”

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