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Restaurant at fault for pitcher’s death, Hancock family says

Saturday, May 26, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:53 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

ST. LOUIS — The father of Josh Hancock filed suit Thursday, claiming a restaurant provided drinks to the St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher even though he was intoxicated prior to the crash that killed him.

The suit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court by Dean Hancock of Tupelo, Miss., does not specify damages. Mike Shannon’s Restaurant, owned by the longtime Cardinals broadcaster who starred on three World Series teams in the 1960s, is a defendant in the case along with Shannon’s daughter, Patricia Shannon Van Matre, the restaurant manager.

Other defendants include Eddie’s Towing, the company whose flatbed tow truck was struck by Hancock’s sport utility vehicle in the early hours of April 29; tow truck driver Jacob Edward Hargrove; and Justin Tolar, the driver whose stalled car on Interstate 64 was being assisted by Hargrove.

The Cardinals and Major League Baseball were not listed as defendants.

Authorities said the 29-year-old pitcher had a blood content of nearly twice the legal limit for alcohol in his system when he crashed into the back of the tow truck. He was also speeding, using a cell phone and wasn’t wearing a seat belt, Police Chief Joe Mokwa said after the accident. Marijuana also was found in the SUV.

Mokwa said Hancock went to Shannon’s not long after the Cardinals played a day game against the Chicago Cubs on April 28. The lawsuit claimed that Hancock was a regular at the restaurant bar and was there for more than three and a half hours.

“It’s understood that for the entire three and a half hours that Josh Hancock was there that he was handed drinks,” Keith Kantack, a lawyer for Dean Hancock, said. “It’s our understanding that from the moment Josh Hancock entered Mike Shannon’s that night that he was never without a drink.”

A person answering phones at the restaurant declined comment. A message left with Van Matre was not returned.

The lawsuit claims Tolar was negligent in allowing his Geo Prism to reach the point where it stalled on the highway and for failing to move it out of the way of oncoming traffic. A police report said the Prism became stalled when it spun out after being cut off by another vehicle.

Police said Hargrove noticed the stalled vehicle and stopped to help. The report said he told officers he was there five to seven minutes before his truck was hit by Hancock’s SUV. But Kantack said the tow truck may have been there up to 15 minutes, yet failed to get the stalled vehicle out of the way.

“Were the police contacted?” Kantack asked. “Why weren’t flares put out? Why was the tow truck there for an exorbitant amount of time?”

Tolar did not have a listed telephone number. Calls to the towing company were met with a busy signal.

Kantack said others could be added later as defendants in the suit. He declined to speculate on whether the Cardinals or Major League Baseball could be added to the suit, but said the Hancock family has been “overwhelmed by the support and respect the Cardinals have shown since Josh’s passing.”

Dean Hancock said in a statement that the “facts and circumstances” of Josh’s death “have caused great pain to all of Josh’s family.” As administrator of his son’s estate, Dean Hancock said he has an obligation to represent the family on all issues, “including any legal actions necessary against those who contributed to the untimely and unnecessary death.”


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