State investigation finds no wrongdoing at bar in Hancock accident

Friday, June 1, 2007 | 12:54 p.m. CDT; updated 1:09 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

ST. LOUIS — A state investigation found no evidence that workers at Mike Shannon's restaurant knew Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was drunk as they served him alcohol in the hours prior to his fatal accident.

Peter Lobdell, supervisor of the state Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, said at a news conference Thursday that investigators interviewed four employees of the restaurant and two of Hancock's teammates who were with him that night.

"The investigators determined Hancock was drinking in moderation, socializing with teammates and friends, and employees of Shannon's," Lobdell said.

"He did not appear to be intoxicated to any patrons or employees who came forward to be interviewed."

However, Lobdell acknowledged that at least two witnesses cited in news reports were not interviewed. One, a man identified only as "Vince," told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was a patron at the restaurant’s bar and believed Hancock did appear intoxicated. Reports also said ESPN broadcaster Dave Campbell was with Hancock on the night of April 28.

Lobdell said the Post-Dispatch would not disclose Vince's identity and neither the man nor his wife, who was also reportedly at the bar, have come forward. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said its editors had never received a request to disclose the names.

He said investigators have not been successful in reaching Campbell.

Lobdell said the investigation could be reopened if anyone comes forward with new information.

Telephone calls seeking comment from Shannon's and restaurant manager Patricia Shannon Van Matre were not returned. She is the daughter of Mike Shannon, the longtime Cardinals broadcaster who played on three World Series teams in the 1960s.

Hancock, 29, died in the early hours of April 29 when his sport utility vehicle struck the back of a flatbed tow truck that was stopped in a driving lane of Interstate 64 assisting a stalled car.

Hancock was alone. The tow truck driver and the car's owner were not hurt.

Police said Hancock had a blood alcohol level of 0.157, nearly twice Missouri's legal limit of 0.08. He was also speeding, using a cell phone and not wearing a seatbelt. Investigators said a small amount of marijuana was also found in the car, but toxicology tests showed Hancock was not under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death.

Hancock's father, Dean Hancock, of Tupelo, Miss., filed a lawsuit last week naming Shannon's, the tow truck company and operator, and the owner of the stalled car.

The suit claims Shannon's workers kept providing drinks to Hancock long after it was clear he was intoxicated.

Lobdell did not name the restaurant workers who were interviewed other than Van Matre. He also refused to name the Cardinals players who were interviewed. In addition, investigators spoke with the woman Hancock was talking to on his cell phone and the manager of the bar at the Westin Hotel, just a few blocks from Shannon's.

Van Matre has said she offered to call a cab for Hancock, but he declined, saying he was walking to the Westin. The bar manager told investigators he didn't know if Hancock appeared at his bar.

The Cardinals lost to the Chicago Cubs 8-1 in a day game on April 28. Hancock arrived at Shannon's between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., Lobdell said. He was one of eight to 10 people in his party, a group that included the two other teammates. Hancock paid a final tab at 12:01 a.m. April 29.

The wreck happened 41 minutes later. Lobdell said it wasn't clear how many drinks Hancock had or what specifically he drank.

A teammate picked up a tab for 27 drinks for the entire party between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. When Hancock left shortly after midnight, he paid a tab for four drinks _ two vodka-mixed drinks and two of the liqueur Frangelico.

It wasn't certain which of those drinks were consumed by Hancock, Lobdell said. Lobdell said Van Matre's comments about calling a cab for Hancock were no admission she thought he was drunk. She told investigators she made the offer because it was late at night, and because of concern that some of the many Cubs fans downtown that night might bother the Cardinals pitcher as he walked to the Westin.

Hancock was a key member of the bullpen for the 2006 World Series champions. He was 3-3 with a 4.09 ERA in 62 regular-season appearances in 2006. This season, Hancock was 0-1 with a 3.55 ERA in eight games.

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