Gerald Mohs stayed sober for nearly three decades. But six months after he fell off the wagon, his final binge ended in tragedy.
On a September night two years ago, Mohs hit four bars and downed at least 21 drinks in seven hours before driving a car down the wrong way of a divided highway in Rochester, where he hit another car head on, killing a 9-year-old boy and paralyzing the boy’s 7-year old cousin.
Mohs got 57 months in prison for his bender. Now, in what may be the largest civil trial judgment in Olmsted County history, a judge has awarded $15 million to Mohs’ victims. Half of that money will come from three taverns that served him when they should have realized he was drunk, the judge ruled.
“This is a guy who hadn’t had a drink in 27, 28 years,” said Jim Suk, attorney for the victims and their families. “Unfortunately, when he got back to drinking, he got into that terrible crescendo you see sometimes in long-term alcoholics.
“He thought he could have a drink, and a drink is never enough.”
Suk said he believes the award, filed by District Judge Joseph Chase, is the largest in a civil case in Olmsted County history. The previous record was also a case Suk handled.
The victims’ families declined to comment Monday on the judgment.
According to court documents:
Mohs set out on the afternoon of Sept. 20, 2014, “to gamble and drink to the point of intoxication.” He and his wife headed for the Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Welch, Minn. They arrived around 1:30 p.m., and Mohs had six to eight drinks in about two hours.
But he was just getting started.
The couple proceeded to the nearby Tipsy Turtle bar, where Mohs drank between eight and 10 Windsor and Sevens in one hour.
The couple then returned to their home in Rochester, but Mohs took their car to the North Star Bar, where he had four more drinks.
Finally, he stopped at the Wicked Moose, where he had one drink. He was refused a second drink and told to leave, according to court records. He went to his car and drove away. It was 8:11 p.m., not quite seven hours since he began drinking.
Less than a minute later, he turned the wrong way down Hwy. 14, a divided four-lane road, crashing head-on into a vehicle driven by Amber Bishop of Plainview. Her 7-year-old son, Jeramiya, and her 9-year-old nephew, William Siems, were in the car with her.
William died the next day from traumatic injuries to his head and body. Jeramiya survived but is paralyzed from the waist down.
Bishop, now 31, still suffers, too. She recently enrolled in a skilled-trade apprenticeship program but was forced to withdraw because of injuries to her right hand and thumb. She can’t grasp tools or even open a can, according to court documents.
‘No yardstick’ for pain
In his ruling, filed late last week, Chase excused Treasure Island from liability. Testimony didn’t show that Mohs was noticeably drunk at the casino. But he was “obviously intoxicated” at the other three bars, the judge wrote.
“I do not find credible or probable the suggestion that Mohs’ intoxication would have remained indiscernible or undetectable by a reasonable observer after he had consumed eight, 10 or 12 drinks since 1:30 p.m.,” the judge wrote.
The judge awarded about $15 million to the victims’ families. Mohs, now 59, was held responsible for half of that sum. The Tipsy Turtle is liable for 25 percent, the North Star for 20 percent and the Wicked Moose for 5 percent.
The Siems family was awarded $1 million, plus about $70,000 in medical and funeral costs. Amber Bishop was awarded $75,000 for pain and suffering, and $1.3 million in future lost earnings.
The Bishop family was awarded $6 million for pain, suffering, emotional distress and impairment of function, plus $3.5 million in lost future earnings and $2.9 million for a lifetime of specialized care.
The largest award went to Jeramiya, now 9, for whom the judge saved his most emotional words.
“He is a boy who will never again run, play sports, or participate in many of the enjoyable and formative activities of childhood and adolescence,” Chase wrote.
“There is no yardstick to value Jeramiya’s pain, suffering, emotional distress and impairment of function in monetary terms. What has been taken from Jeramiya is literally priceless.”