Friends of Hoeflinger testify at liquor store clerk’s trialWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Two teenage friends of Brian Hoeflinger testified April 14 in the trial of a liquor store clerk charged with selling alcohol to a minor.
Nicholas Thompson, 38, appeared before Lucas County Court of Common Pleas Judge James Bates. He is charged with selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor on Feb. 1, 2013, at Foxx Liquor Store on Dorr Street. The state called five witnesses, including the two teens, before the case was adjourned till morning.
Michael Geiger and Blake Pappas, who were seniors at Ottawa Hills High School along with Hoeflinger, both testified that the three friends met at Hoeflinger’s house after school on Feb. 1, 2013, where they pooled their money and drove to Foxx Liquor to buy alcohol.
That’s where Lucas County assistant prosecutors Louis Kountouris and Charles McDonald say Thompson sold 17-year-old Pappas a 1.75-liter bottle of Belvedere vodka without asking for identification.
The two teens testified that all three boys entered the store and chose the bottle of vodka together. Pappas then purchased the liquor for about $50 while Hoeflinger and Geiger browsed nearby.
Hoeflinger, 18, died from injuries sustained in an alcohol-related crash later that night. However, Bates asked the eight jurors to disregard any references in testimony to the crash or Hoeflinger’s death and focus only on the sale of the liquor.
During cross-examination, Thompson’s attorneys Rick Kerger and Andy Douglas brought up several discrepancies between the statements given by the teens when they were first interviewed by investigators on April 15, 2013, and the testimony given in court, including certain details in their physical descriptions of the clerk, how confident they were Thompson was the clerk who made the sale, which of the teens drove to the store and whether one of them had a fake ID.
Douglas questioned Geiger on how close he was to the cash register while the sale was taking place and whether he was really able to get a good look at the clerk or if it was possible the clerk asked for ID but Geiger was too far away to hear or see.
Pappas testified he did have a fake ID at the time, but did not have it with him on Feb. 1 and was not asked for ID at the liquor store. He said he didn’t bring the ID because he had a basketball game that night and didn’t want to risk bringing the ID to school. He also said he had previously purchased liquor at Foxx Liquor.
Also called as witnesses for the prosecution were Foxx Liquor employee Adam Meglitsch and Keenan Reese and Michael Hakeos, both alcohol enforcement agents with the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Investigative Unit.
Reese testified about conducting a September 2012 sting at Foxx Liquor in which Thompson sold alcohol to an underage patron working undercover. Thompson pleaded guilty on the charge and paid a fine. During the cross-examination, Kerger noted that Thompson pleaded not guilty this time.
Hakeos was among the investigators who questioned Geiger and Pappas on April 15, 2013, and who executed a search warrant on Foxx Liquor on April 16, 2013.
Taken as evidence at the store was a Feb. 1, 2013, receipt for the bottle of vodka, a daily transmittal report from the store verifying the bottle had been purchased that day and employee timecards, showing Thompson worked 4:05-10:43 p.m. Feb. 1. A DVR machine was also seized, but surveillance footage is recorded over every 10 days, so the footage from Feb. 1 was gone by the time of the April 16 raid, Hakeos said.
Hakeos interviewed Thompson that day at the store and audio of the interview was played in court. Thompson said he didn’t recall the specific incident from Feb. 1, but did recognize Pappas as a regular customer who often came in with friends. He did not recognize photos of Geiger or Hoeflinger. A written statement taken from Thompson that day stated he could have sold Pappas the vodka without checking his ID because he was familiar with him being in the store.
During cross-examination, Kerger pointed out the interview took place more than two months after the Feb. 1 transaction. He also questioned whether the number of officers and deputies involved in the raid was necessary and whether Hakeos interviewing Thompson while wearing a bulletproof vest and mask and standing with an armed officer might have been intimidating. Hakeos replied that Thompson did not seem intimidated.
Hakeos also testified that of the employees working Feb. 1, Thompson most closely matched the teens’ description of the clerk who sold them alcohol. One employee was a woman, another was a black man and Meglitsch had testified that his job was to stock shelves and that he never worked the register. Meglitsch is also shorter than Thompson, more than 10 years younger and has dark hair while Thompson has blond hair, Hakeos said.
Kerger also questioned Hakeos about why his report about interviewing the teens contained an inconsistency from the interview transcripts about which teen was driving and why he didn’t press Pappas more about where he’d gotten a fake ID. Hakeos responded that both issues are important, but were secondary concerns to finding out where and from whom the teens had bought the liquor.
Hoeflinger’s parents and two sisters were in the courtroom for the afternoon portion of the trial. Since the accident, the couple have founded an organization Brian Matters, www.brianmatters.com, and become national advocates against teen alcohol use and abuse.
Representatives of Foxx Liquor management were also in the courtroom. Foxx lost its liquor license in August, but is still able to sell beer and wine.
Thompson was recently charged with two additional counts of selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor stemming from a separate incident, but Bates, stating a conflict of interest, asked April 14 that he be recused from the case and another judge assigned.