Counterclaim filed, bars closed following Dram Shop suit against Crockett Street

Marilyn Tennissen Jul. 9, 2008, 6:00pm

Clay Dugas

Barely a month ago, a young woman left a Beaumont bar and died in a head on collision. In the few weeks since her death on June 5, the woman's parents have filed a lawsuit, a defendant has filed a counterclaim and the bar where she had been drinking has gone out of business.

As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, on June 5, Meagan Watkins, 22, of Bridge City had been at the Dixie Dance Hall in the Crockett Street Entertainment District in downtown Beaumont.

When she left the bar, she began travelling west in the eastbound lane of Interstate 10 and struck a stopped tow truck head on. Watkins was pronounced dead at the scene, about five miles west of Beaumont.

Three weeks later, her parents Melissa Dwyer and Jerome Watkins filed a lawsuit against the Dixie Dance Hall as well as the tow truck driver, Travis Blaise Darby, and the owner of the truck, Independent Specialty Towing. Attorney John Morgan of Beaumont's Lindsay & Morgan is representing the parents. (see "Parents sue other driver, bar for daughter's DUI death")

As the month came to a close, the owner of the Dixie announced June 30 that he was shutting down the club – and the all of the other venues he operated on Crockett Street, nearly decimating Beaumont's downtown entertainment scene.

Repeated calls to McCarson by the Southeast Texas Record were not returned, but the club owner told a local newspaper that lawsuits were part of the reason he decided to suddenly close six successful restaurants, bars and dance clubs on July 1.

In addition to the Watkins suit, McCarson is a defendant in another wrongful death suit filed May 9. In that case, (see "Dram shop suit filed against Crockett Street bars" ) an intoxicated Shannon Seidel climbed into her car after having drinks at Texas Star Bar and Spindletop Seafood & Steak House on Crockett Street and died on her way home when she lost control and struck a tree. Seidel's father, represented by Raul Rios of San Antonio, filed suit against McCarson's establishments.

The Record also reported on a personal injury suit filed May 13 against the Dixie by a woman who was thrown from a mechanical bull (see "Woman thrown by mechanical bull sues Crockett Street dance hall").

The closing of the Dixie Dance Hall, Texas Star Bar, Spindletop Restaurant, Black Cat Lounge, Antone's and Ten Lounge meant around 150 employees lost their jobs, most with only one day's notice. McCarson's departure leaves only three venues -- Bobbie McGee's, Hog Wild and Rio Ritas Cantina -- open on Crockett Street.

On July 2, tow truck driver Travis Blaise Darby filed a dendant's answer, counterclaim and cross claim to the Watkins suit.

He says the claims against him are frivolous and requests that they be dismissed as he files a counterclaim against Meagan Watkins' parents and a cross claim against the Dixie Dance Hall.

According to Darby, on June 5 he was traveling in an eastbound direction on IH-10 when he was forced to stop by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"The DPS stopped traffic because a vehicle driven by Meagan Watkins was traveling westbound on IH-10 in the eastbound lane, threatening to cause a serious collision," the plaintiff's original complaint states. "Meagan Watkins' vehicle did indeed strike counter-plaintiff's vehicle head-on, thereby directly and proximately causing injuries and damages to counter-plaintiff."

Darby claims he suffered right knee, lower back and chest injuries.
He alleges that Watkins was "negligent per se" at the time of the collision.

But Darby goes on to claim that the Dixie Dance Hall is also liable under the Texas Dram Shop Act.

The Dixie breached its duties by serving Watkins when she was clearly intoxicated and presented a clear danger to herself and others, Darby claims, and adds that the Dixie does not qualify for the "safe harbor" defense to dram shop liability.

Darby is seeking medical expenses, lost wages and damages for mental anguish, physical pain, disability and loss of enjoyment of life.

He also is seeking punitive or exemplary damages for the defendants' malice and gross negligence.

Darby is being represented by Clay Dugas of Beaumont.

The case is in Judge Bob Wortham's court.

Case No. A181-952

For results of a Southeast Texas reader poll about the Watkins suit, see

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