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Two area bars sued in DUI death

Driver set to be sentenced Tuesday

STERLING – The mother of a pedestrian killed in a drunken driving accident is suing two bars she says served the SUV driver who hit her son.

Joanne K. Nitsch, mother of Brad E. Nitsch, claims that Champs in Sterling and Dyl’s Deli in Galt (which closed March 1 and was replaced by Cochran’s Pub) served Chad E. Morse on Nov. 26, 2011.

Morse, 41, of Rock Falls, pleaded guilty March 5 to aggravated DUI. He faces 3 to 14 years in prison at his sentencing Tuesday.

The bars are denying responsibility, but maintain that if they are found at fault, Nitsch was at least partially responsible for his own death because he, too, was drunk.

Nitsch, 33, was standing in the 700 block of Avenue D in Rock Falls around 11:30 p.m. when Morse, doing 51 to 63 mph in a 30-mph zone, struck and killed him. Morse’s SUV then hit a utility pole head-on, rolled and lodged between the front porch and two trees at 703 Ave. D.

Morse’s blood-alcohol level was .147, nearly double the legal limit of .08. He and two passengers, his girlfriend, Nicole Lundquist, 25, and Kari Folkers, 46, both of Rock Falls, were treated at CGH Medical Center.

The lawsuit, filed in Whiteside County Court in October, cites the Illinois Dram Shop Act, which states that anyone injured by an intoxicated person has a “right of action” against anyone licensed to sell liquor who, by selling the liquor, caused the intoxication of the person who caused the injury.

The act also states, however, that no one can sue for injuries suffered as a result of the injured person’s own intoxication.

The suit seeks more than $50,000 plus costs from each bar.

In their responses, the bars deny the claims, but say if they are found liable, then their responsibility in causing the injuries was less than 25 percent each in comparison with other parties involved, including Nitsch, who “was fatally injured as a direct result of his own intoxication at the time of the incident.”

Morse, the Rock Falls VFW and Bears Showtown USA in Lyndon originally were named defendants in the suit. In December, Morse was dropped with prejudice, meaning he cannot be sued for the same claims, because “all matters in controversy” between him and Nitsch’s mother “have been fully compromised and settled, and all costs paid,” the dismissal order says.

The two bars were dropped without prejudice. No explanation was given.

Nitsch declined Wednesday to specify why the three were dropped.

Nitsch, 58, of Axis, Ala., lived in the Twin Cities from 1981 to 2001, she said. Her son was living in Mobile, Ala., and visiting his sister at the time of his death, she said.

Illinois should pass laws that crack down on bars, she said.

“I feel, truthfully, so does my family together, that the bars ... have to be responsible for their actions,” she said. “Bartenders need to learn if you’re going to be employed, you need to be responsibly employed. That means not serving someone who’s been drinking.”

Perhaps bars should be forced to close earlier, she said. Or perhaps bartenders should be mandated to complete a state-sponsored program in which they learn the possible consequences of overserving customers, she said.

“There are a lot of states that require them now,” she said. “You can’’t say, ‘I want to be a bartender,’ ‘OK come on in and make a drink.’ I would like to know why Illinois does not seek such a rule.”

A case management conference on the lawsuit is set for July 15.      

About the charges

Chad Morse, 41, of Rock Falls, pleaded guilty March 5 to aggravated DUI in the death of Brad Nitsch, 33. He faces 3 to 14 years in prison at his sentencing Tuesday in Whiteside County Court.

As part of a plea agreement, reached before his bench trial that was set to begin March 6, three counts of reckless homicide, another count of aggravated DUI, and two counts of misdemeanor DUI were dismissed.

Aggravated DUI is the most serious of the charges, because it is punishable by more prison time and because Morse must serve more of his sentence before parole is possible.

In Illinois, a person found guilty in a DUI case resulting in death must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole, which in this case would be between 2 years, 6.5 months and 11 years, 11 months.

In most criminal cases, defendants must serve only 50 percent of their sentence before being eligible.

Morse has been in Whiteside County Jail since his arrest, and so will be eligble for time served. He also could be fined up to $25,000. 

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