March 8, 2013 – Armarillo Globe-News – Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigators have halted their probe into whether “Texas” troupe members younger than 21 were served alcoholic beverages during a private party in August.
The investigation “hit a wall” that caused investigators to close the case unless other witnesses come forward, according to a TABC complaint summary obtained through an open records request filed by the Amarillo Globe-News. The documents show the agency uncovered no violations during its investigation of the Aug. 12 “Texas” cast party that benefactor Joe Batson hosted at his Sherman County ranch.
The case could be reopened if new information is uncovered. “We have opened things up a year, year and a half later, when other information has come to light,” said Lt. Brian Williams of the Lubbock TABC office.
Five members of the “Texas” cast and crew — including the driver, 20-year-old Clint Diaz — were killed in a highway crash in Moore County after leaving the party. Authorities have said alcohol was a factor in the violent collision between a car carrying six cast members and a tractor-trailer. Diaz had a blood alcohol level of .165 — twice the legal driving limit — and traces of marijuana in his blood, a Texas Department of Public Safety crash report said. Party-goers who died in the accident — Julian Arredondo IV, Andrew Duncan, Eric Harrison and Amanda Starz — ranged in age from 20 to 24. Cast member Timothy Johnson was the lone survivor from Diaz’s vehicle.
TABC opened an investigation because furnishing alcohol to a person younger than 21 is a criminal Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $4,000 and as much as a year in jail. The summary cites DPS crash scene photos “indicating several bottles of distilled spirits were found in backpacks of the victims.”
“No information showed that anyone provided the driver with any AB (alcoholic beverage) other than the driver,” said a TABC report entry Feb. 14, the day the case was closed. “He also had THC (marijuana) in his blood. This could have been the cause of the crash.
“The party that was attended was a BYOB (bring your own bottle) party and no witnesses at the party stated that AB were provided. The driver had a backpack in the trunk of the car with a bottle of distilled spirits and marijuana in it.” TABC investigators “were never able to prove where any of the ABs came from,” the report said. “There are no witnesses that state he (Diaz) was intoxicated at all when at the party,” the report said. “This case is closed pending any further witnesses that might come forward in the future.”
Batson’s attorney, Bart Pruitt, issued a statement emphasizing TABC found no violations.
“Notwithstanding the unfounded allegations concerning the tragic deaths and injury involving ‘Texas’ cast members this past summer, the investigation of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has now been concluded with the notation: ‘Closed — No Violations,’” Pruitt said. “Mr. Batson, Coldwater Cattle Co. and the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation have been found to have had no fault or responsibility in the matter by the TABC investigation.” The statement expressed hope that the affected families would continue healing.
The TABC report, released last week, chronicles investigators’ repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact witnesses or obtain information or materials. Investigations “depend a whole lot on cooperation, as far as what we can find out,” Williams said.
Representatives at the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit that produces “Texas,” provided TABC with a copy of the party information and the musical drama program in August but referred Agent Anthony Bates to the foundation’s attorney for other information.
“I am not getting any cooperation out of the staff at ‘Texas’ the musical,” a Sept. 9 TABC notation states. Foundation Executive Director Kris Miller responded that, “There was never any intent not to cooperate with them.
Representatives for Batson stopped providing information to TABC in January after Johnson dropped a civil lawsuit against Batson, his Coldwater Cattle Co. and the foundation Dec. 23, the TABC complaint summary shows. The lawsuit claimed Batson, the cattle company and the foundation were negligent in their roles as party hosts. The defendants in the civil case denied responsibility, asserting that those in the car, including Diaz, “were adults, according to the laws of the state of Texas,” and therefore competent to make their own choices to drive or find a designated driver. The notice of nonsuit filed on behalf of Johnson by his Amarillo attorney, Channy Wood, referred only to Johnson’s case and did not mention intervenor June Bush, Arredondo’s mother.