June 24, 2014 Motor Vehicle Law Reporter

Parents of teen killed in car crash claim stores sold alcohol to minor despite notice he was underage 

Courtney L. Davenport


The parents of a teenager killed when her intoxicated boyfriend crashed his car have sued two convenience stores, alleging they illegally sold alcohol to a minor despite warnings that he was under 21 on his fake driver’s license and in a database.
 

The parents of a teenager killed when her intoxicated boyfriend crashed his car have sued two convenience stores, alleging they illegally sold alcohol to a minor despite warnings that he was under 21 on his fake driver’s license and in a database. (Gilmer v. Circle K Stores, Inc., No. SC 14 CV 470 (Ga., Muscogee Co. St. filed June 6, 2014).)

In June 2012, Clayton Qualls, 17, was arrested for driving under the influence. Less than two weeks later, he presented a fake driver’s license to a clerk at a Circle K convenience store to buy a 30-pack of beer. The picture on the license—which had been noticeably altered—was not of Qualls, and it stated in large red letters that the person was “under 21.” Nevertheless, the cashier sold him the beer, even after the store’s computerized cash register told her the licensee was underage. Qualls drove to another store, Maple Party Shop, owned by Palvi, Inc., and bought a bottle of vodka using the same fake license.

For the next four hours, Qualls drank several of the beers and multiple vodka shots. While driving with his girlfriend, 16-year-old Hannah Gilmer, Qualls began racing vehicles driven by two friends, Daniel Massengale and Austin Lott. He lost control of his car, which rolled multiple times, broke through a wooden fence, struck a tree, and landed on its roof. Gilmer was ejected. Rather than help her as she lay on the ground struggling to breathe, Massengale and Lott helped Qualls hide the beer. They waited 23 minutes to call an ambulance, and Gilmer later died at the hospital.

Earlier this year, Qualls pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular homicide and began serving a nine-year sentence. In a recent court hearing related to charges against Massengale and Lott for felony evidence tampering, the assistant district attorney, Wesley Lambertus, said the “boys abandoned Hannah. They left her alone on the ground clinging to life. It was a heartless act, a cruel act, a selfish act. They could have at least held her hand. They could have stayed with her.”

Gilmer’s parents confidentially settled suits with the three teenagers. They also sued the stores that sold Qualls the alcohol under Georgia’s dram shop statute. The day before suit was filed, New York announced that almost half the New York City grocery and liquor stores visited in an undercover operation sold alcohol to minors. The governor didn’t say whether the “minors” presented fake licenses. Benjamin Land of Columbus, Ga., who represents the Gilmers, said he doesn’t know how common his clients’ situation is—where at least one of the stores was affirmatively notified the buyer was a minor—but that stores have a responsibility to refuse such sales.

“Stores [that sell to minors] are playing with fire and asking for trouble,” said Land. “Providing alcohol to minors is not only wrong on many levels, but it is also a very dangerous thing to do, as the events of this case show.”