Last seen at a Stillwater bar, George Musser walked into a bitterly cold night without a warm coat and was found lifeless a day and a half later.
The nature of his death has left people wondering if Brian's Bar & Grill, the place he left at 2:10 a.m. on Christmas Eve, is somehow liable since Musser, 20, wasn't of legal age to drink.
The answer for now is that it's too early to know, said one attorney.
"We have this information that's in the news but we don't know exactly what happened," said attorney Katie Claffey with the Minneapolis firm Groshek Law. "It's really sad; it's just terrible, but like any case until we have everything nobody can just start pointing the finger."
Stillwater Police Chief Brian Mueller on Thursday said Musser's death is an active investigation, but since toxicology reports may not be available for weeks, he doesn't anticipate releasing information anytime soon.
The Star Tribune spoke to several attorneys about the case. None of them are associated with the investigation, but spoke generally about state law and the process for an investigation of this type.
Attorney Dan Koewler of the Ramsay Law Firm in Roseville said he thinks it's "very unlikely" that a bar or any bar employee would be criminally charged in the case. A violation of the state's so-called "dram shop law" could lead to civil penalties against a bar, but it would require proof that Musser was served alcohol there. It would also have to be shown that there was a connection between being served and his death, said Koewler.
The intention of such dram shop laws is primarily to hold bartenders and liquor stores civilly liable if somebody does something tragic because they were overserved, or if they never should have been served in the first place, said Koewler. But it's not clear what happened to Musser after he left the bar, Koewler added. Musser's family found his keys and wallet in the parking lot behind Brian's, along with his vehicle.
"There's so many factors we don't know right now," he said.
Koewler said it's not unusual for people to want an immediate legal remedy when a tragedy occurs. "Sometimes an accident is just an accident, which is why it's so dangerous to speculate," he said.
Brian Asmus, one of the owners of the bar and restaurant, said he's waiting to learn more about what happened, adding that he's seen a lot of comments online but doesn't know what to make of them.
Asmus said he expects the Stillwater police will be doing interviews at some point. "I'm sure they're going to get to the bottom of all these statements being made," he said. "I don't know myself what's true or false out of there. We're kind of in a holding pattern."
Musser's body was found in the 5400 block of Osgood Avenue N., about 2½ miles from where he started walking. Preliminary evidence suggests Musser died from exposure, officials have said. Temperatures early Saturday morning in Stillwater were about 5 degrees below zero.
Musser's grieving friends and family held a candlelight vigil for him Monday night, drawing about 500 people to downtown Stillwater to remember the Stillwater Area High School graduate and University of Wisconsin-River Falls student.
Some of those same people begged others on social media to stop looking to blame someone for his death.
"Please keep in mind that family and loved ones lost a family member and friend, so let's keep things respectful and kind on this page," wrote Ally Parent on the "Remember George Musser" Facebook page.
Still others were left with the same question as Star Tribune reader Kris Gronquist, who said she hoped something could be done to prevent another death like Musser's: "I don't understand why no one grabbed him at some point and said something," she said.
Musser's funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Jan. 6 at St. Michael's Church, 611 Third St. S., Stillwater, according to his obituary notice. Visitation will take place Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a prayer service at 7 p.m. at Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center, 2800 Curve Crest Blvd., Stillwater; a visitation will also be held one hour before the funeral Mass.