Drunk, then dead in the snow after Shakopee store sold him beer

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 26, 2013 - 10:09 PM

A Shakopee clerk is charged with selling alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person. A teen who filmed the incident also is charged.

They thought the whole thing was a big joke. Thomas Lawrie stumbling into the Shakopee convenience store drunk, dropping his money, falling down at the counter.

Still, according to authorities, the clerk sold him a six-pack of beer and the clerk's teenage relative filmed the whole thing on his cellphone camera, laughing the whole time. Nobody called the cops. Nobody checked to make sure he got home OK.

Lawrie, 52, was found dead the next morning in a snowbank around the corner from the store. He had beers from the six-pack in each hand, unopened.

The clerk, Ghaleb Saadalla Awawda, 27, and the teenager are facing the relatively rare charge of selling liquor to an obviously intoxicated person, a gross misdemeanor. The juvenile, who was 15 at the time of the incident on Dec. 11, is also charged with intentional liability for crimes of another and a gross-misdemeanor liquor violation.

"This person needed help that night," Shakopee Police Chief Jeffrey Tate said. "If they hadn't allowed him to buy alcohol, there would be no charge. Would he have died? I don't know. Certainly if they had called us and he'd been detoxed, I think it's safe to assume he would be with us today.

"They're not culpable for his death," Tate said. "The charge isn't that they killed him. The charge is they sold alcohol to someone who was obviously intoxicated."

According to his daughter, Samantha Lawrie, 21, Lawrie had struggled with mental health problems and addiction since he was 15. He'd never been able to hold a job and had been in and out of treatment centers and hospitals.

But his daughter says she loved him and, to her, he was no joke.

"The only thing I have left of him is a box of legal documents," Samantha Lawrie said. She didn't know about the charges against the store clerk or the teenager until a reporter told her last week.

"Some sort of justice would be amazing," she said.

Tom Lawrie was a loving father, his daughter said. They would go on outings to apple orchards and the Renaissance Festival when she was a little girl. But he always ended up choosing alcohol over her, she said.

"My life goal for the longest time was to make him better," she said. "That was my life."

Samantha Lawrie last saw her father on his birthday, Nov. 17. He'd run out of food and she went grocery shopping for him. He lived in a subsidized apartment and was a ward of the state when he died, she said.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Scott County District Court, Shakopee police were sent to a medical call behind the Top Star Market at 615 S. Marschall Road about 8:40 a.m. Dec. 12. They found Lawrie dead in the snow.

An autopsy found that he had died from "mixed-drug toxicity" and hypothermia, with alcoholism and bipolar disorder as contributing factors. His blood-alcohol content was 0.22 percent.

Lawrie was known to police, Chief Tate said. There were 66 police contacts with him between Oct. 1, 2001, and December 2012, according to Tammy Helgeson, the police records supervisor, mostly for mental health issues or intoxication.

The complaint said an investigator talked to another clerk at the Top Star Market who said Lawrie had come into the store about 10 p.m. the night before. Footage from a store surveillance camera showed Lawrie stumbling around the store and struggling to get money out of the ATM. He dropped his money at the counter and fell on his back while trying to pick it up. Then he got up and stumbled back to the cooler, the complaint said.

He was unable to open the cooler door, so the teenager opened it for him and carried a six-pack of beer to the counter for him. Lawrie paid for the beer and left the store. The teenager continued to film Lawrie as he lurched around the corner and out of sight, Tate said.

The teenager told an investigator that Lawrie was a regular customer and was usually drunk when he came in, the complaint said. But he was "especially intoxicated" when he came in that night, the complaint said. Awawda told the detective that he had sold Lawrie beer and Awawda said he asked him if they should call an ambulance or police to help him.

Awawda told the Shakopee Valley News that Lawrie refused his offers, wagging his finger "no" at him. Awawda could not be reached to comment last week and no one at the store would take a message for him.

"When I sat down and was shown this video for the first time, there was a definite feeling of disbelief that they sold alcohol to this individual," the police chief said. "They thought it was a joke and they're whipping out the camera phone to videotape the whole thing.

"He [Lawrie] may not have wanted to see us that night, but again, we needed to be called," Tate said.

The Top Star Market has one other alcohol-related violation on record, for selling alcohol to an underage customer on May 27, 2010, Helgeson said.

Scott County Attorney Pat Ciliberto said the charge of selling alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person is "certainly not common because most people know their obligations and try to follow the law."

No one else has been charged under that law in Scott County in the past 10 years, Ciliberto said. According to state court records, only 78 counts of that charge have been filed in Minnesota since 2008.

Awawda is scheduled to make his first court appearance Feb. 1. Samantha Lawrie said she'd like to be there.

"Always, I just thought we'd have the chance to resume our relationship," she said.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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