Nine hours before Mallory Beach was killed in a horrific alcohol-related boat crash just outside of Parris Island, South Carolina, 20-year-old Paul Murdaugh used his older brother’s ID at a Parker’s gas station a few miles away to buy $48 of booze for that evening, according to documents filed in a recent lawsuit.
Paul Murdaugh handed the cashier an ID that showed his brother, Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. – who is several inches taller and more than 70 pounds heavier than him, according to several witness testimonies.
But the cashier, trained to focus on expediency, quickly scanned the ID without noticing that Paul Murdaugh – who was buying White Claws, Natural Light, and Michelob Ultra – was under 21 and using a fake identification, the lawsuit said.
Attorney Mark Tinsley, who is representing Beach’s family in the case, argues in court filings that this transaction was not an anomaly — that Parker’s system for identifying underage customers purchasing alcohol is broken and does not work.
The wrongful death lawsuit filed by her mother Renee Beach is inching closer toward trial as three of the remaining defendants — Parker’s Corporation/ Greg Parker, Richard Alexander Murdaugh and Richard Alexander Murdaugh Jr. — have failed to reach an agreement.
The focus of the civil suit isn’t simply who is at fault for Mallory’s death, it’s who is at fault for Paul Murdaugh’s alleged intoxication prior to the crash.
In the latest lawsuit filings – which include multiple depositions of Parker’s executives – Tinsley exposed a number of problems with the gas station chain’s training program. These problems, he has argued, should have been fixed long before Paul Murdaugh illegally purchased alcohol on February 23, 2019.
Parker’s in fact faced a similar lawsuit in Beaufort County in 2016 after a Hilton Head man was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver who purchased alcohol from one of its stores before the crash.
The driver was also killed in that collision.
Parker’s ultimately reached a settlement with the man’s family, paying them $39,407 in 2018.
During a 2017 deposition related to that lawsuit, attorney David Savage – who specializes in dram shop law – pulled Parker’s general council Blake Greco aside to tell him about resources available to prevent cashiers from making dangerous alcohol sales.
“I’ll never forget, Greco just looked at me and said ‘we’re not worried about this’ and walked out,” Savage told FITSNews. “I was speechless because two people had died after what Parker’s employees admitted under oath was an improper sale.”
Savage said he was “dismayed” because of Parker’s indifference to the deaths of two people all for the sake of profit.
“Now three people are dead and all three deaths were preventable,” Savage said.
Three years later, Greco sat through another deposition in the Beach lawsuit, where he answered more questions related to Parker’s training program and policies for alcohol sales.
Asked multiple times if Parker’s has done anything to change its policy, training, or culture since that previous lawsuit, Greco failed to name any specific examples, but he claimed the company has “improved.”
In Savannah, Parker’s has been cited multiple times in recent years for selling alcohol to minors. Just a few days before Mallory Beach’s death, the chain was cited for selling alcohol to minors, WJCL reported.
When asked in deposition how many times Parker’s has been cited for illegal alcohol sales, Parker’s attorney Mitch Griffith instructed Greco not to answer.
Throughout the lawsuit, Tinsley has argued that Parker’s business model is dangerous — that until Parker’s admits its fault and changes how it handles alcohol sales, more alcohol will be illegally sold from their stores to customers under 21.
Beach’s parents want to make it clear that the lawsuit is about more than their daughter’s tragic death — it is about holding parties accountable so that more tragic accidents do not occur.
“I think that’s the problem … (Parker’s) is not training (its workers) properly, so that’s why kids are coming in with fake IDs or using their brother’s ID and they’re not trained so they don’t know what to look for,” Mallory’s mother Renee Beach said. “If (Parker’s) would start training them properly, it would help save someone else’s life.”
Because of the Murdaugh family’s wealth and status, Beach’s lawsuit is unarguably one of the most high-profile civil cases in South Carolina right now.
Paul Murdaugh’s grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather all served as solicitors of the 14th judicial circuit from 1920-2006. Because of these powerful family ties, two judges asked to be recused from the case and requested S.C. chief justice Donald Beatty to assign the case to someone else.
Parker’s lawyers have argued that they are being targeted because of Greg Parker’s deep pockets. The recent filing stated that the “claim for punitive damages violates the U.S. and S.C. constitutions because “the amount of punitive damages is based upon the wealth and status of the defendants.”
Greg Parker owns 66 Parker’s gas stations in South Carolina and Georgia, employing more than 1,000 people. In 2016, the company announced a five-year plan to eclipse annual revenues of $1 billion.
Parker’s attorneys have claimed that Paul Murdaugh used his older brother’s ID “at a myriad of bars, restaurants and similar establishments” before the transaction in question took place at around 5:30 p.m. EST on February 23, 2019.
They referred to this as a “plan of deceit” by the brothers and said their representative was “hoodwinked by this deception.”
They argued Paul Murdaugh used the ID “to take advantage of a Parker’s customer service representative like he had to many other people at establishments near and far.”
But throughout the case, Tinsley and the Beaches have argued that Paul Murdaugh’s illegal alcohol purchase was not an outlier — that Parker’s does not properly train its employees to vet underaged customers’ IDs.
In a deposition, the Parker’s cashier who sold alcohol to Paul Murdaugh did not appear to be familiar with policies related to alcohol sales. She not only sold the booze to Paul Murdaugh, but also sold alcohol to another 19-year-old boater who used an ID purchased online from “ID GOD,” which was turned down at several other establishments.
Greg Parker has previously said that “speed of transaction” is “the single benchmark” that Parker’s values the most — and the cashier said in deposition that it was her job to serve customers quickly.
Tinsley has argued it is Parker’s “speed of transaction” system that’s broken and if this lawsuit — involving the death of a beloved teenager — doesn’t make them change their ways, what will?
Tinsley has also accused Parker’s of withholding evidence in the discovery process, which has stalled the case.
“Parker’s is fighting to keep relevant evidence and information or information reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence sought by this motion hidden from the real victims, the people harmed by Parker’s wrongful conduct,” Tinsley wrote in a previous motion.
Too often forgotten in this tragic tale is Mallory Beach — the victim. Beach was well-known and adored in the Hampton and Beaufort communities where she lived and worked. She was described by friends as bubbly and kind with a bright future ahead of her.
But Mallory wasn’t described as a victim in Parker’s latest defense.
“(Mallory Beach) with knowledge of the risk, voluntarily exposed herself to and assumed the risk of injury,” Parker’s attorneys argued.
In other words, Parker’s is claiming Mallory Beach was negligent in her own death and should share some responsibility.
However, several boaters have said in deposition that Mallory was scared before the crash and they tried to get Paul to allow her boyfriend Anthony Cook to drive the boat.
“Anthony and Paul were fighting because Mallory was telling Anthony that she was scared and Paul said something to Mallory, like, “shut up and Anthony didn’t like that,” one of the boaters said.
A few months ago, attorneys for Parkers’ – Mitchell Griffith, Kelly Dean and Paul Gibson – requested that the Beach case to be tried using the standards of maritime law.
S.C. circuit court judge Daniel DeWitt Hall has not ruled on that request yet, according to recent filings.
In court documents, Parker’s indicated it wished for a jury to be able to apportion fault to Paul Murdaugh without him being an actual defendant.
There are three ongoing cases associated with the boat crash – Beach’s lawsuit, a federal lawsuit filed by an insurance company against the Murdaughs over claims from the civil suit, and the criminal case against Paul Murdaugh.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the criminal case. Columbia, S.C. attorney (and S.C. senator) Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin – two of the most prominent criminal defense attorneys in the Palmetto State – are representing Murdaugh.
Robert Kittle, spokesperson for Alan Wilson’s office, told FITSNews that a trial date has not been set and the case is unlikely to happen anytime this year given the effective shutdown of the judicial branch of government in the Palmetto State since March.
Sources close to the case have told FITSNews it could take years before Murdaugh stands trial.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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