After boy's tragic death, a bill addressing the over-service of alcohol goes to the Utah Senate

Jeremy Mitchell sits with his wife Lisa and their daughter Emma, Tuesday, while holding photo of their late son Eli, who was killed by a drunken driver in April 2022.

Jeremy Mitchell sits with his wife Lisa and their daughter Emma, Tuesday, while holding photo of their late son Eli, who was killed by a drunken driver in April 2022. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Last April, Eli Mitchell was walking his bike across the street to use his new debit card for the first time when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver who had been drinking for six hours straight.

"Eli was killed just about a minute after the final bar tab was paid," Glendon Mitchell, Eli's grandfather, said Tuesday before a Senate committee.

Eli's death impacted more than just his family, Mitchell said. The incident, he said, happened around rush hour on 9000 South in West Jordan.

"There were a lot of witnesses," Mitchell said. "It's hard to put myself in their position to see a young boy hit and run over. ... The trauma effect of this far extends beyond our immediate family."

Mitchell went to Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, to find resources to understand Utah's Alcoholic Beverage Control Act. Ivory saw the law didn't provide clarity on liability for over-serving alcohol, so he is running a bill that would try to prevent cases of over-service from happening.

HB247 would clarify definitions of intoxicated, clarify that alcohol service records must be held and turned over to the police in an incident where over-service leads to injury or death, and clarify what a plaintiff must prove to go to court, according to the bill text.

"Even though (over-service) is illegal, our law has been such that there have rarely been prosecutions and rarely been civil actions," Ivory said in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday.

William Carlson, chief policy adviser for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, said, "In the last five years there have been zero convictions in the state of Utah for over-service."

The current definition of intoxication, he said, is ambiguous and unclear. HB247 clarifies that as long as there is some manifestation of intoxication, further alcohol service is considered over-service.

HB247, he said, also clarifies that once an establishment receives written confirmation from law enforcement that an investigation is underway because of over-service, records must be kept for up to two years over the course of the investigation. After a written notice is given to the establishment stating there is an investigation, if records are destroyed it will be considered obstruction, Carlson said.

Ivory said this bill is not meant to target the service industry, but to hold "bad actors" accountable.

Jan McMillan also shared her story with the committee. Her child was hit and killed by a drunk driver in 2015. Although charges were filed related to alleged over-service of alcohol, the case was dismissed because the law was vague, she said.

The server didn't have to deal with the consequences, McMillan said, but "my family and I suffer the pain of his loss every day."

"I personally hoped this bill would never have to be enacted," Mitchell told the Deseret News. "But it exists for good reason."

The committee voted unanimously to give the bill a favorable recommendation. It will now move on to the Senate.

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