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Politics

Fasano acts after bar ejects

By LEONORA LaPETER
Published February 6, 2007


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State Sen. Mike Fasano, who said he has never had an alcoholic drink, has often been a designated driver for friends.

So he can relate to Gary Maujean's predicament.

In June, Maujean said, he was ejected from Carlie's Lounge in Pinellas Park for not buying alcohol. Maujean, who builds doors for a living, was the designated driver for his wife and their friends.

Now Fasano, R-New Port Richey, has filed a bill that would prevent bar owners from throwing out patrons who don't buy alcohol. The new bill would slip mistreatment of designated drivers in with discrimination based on race, sex and creed and could affect an establishment's license.

"I was outraged," said Fasano, who once crusaded for a coral-colored license plate for repeat drunken drivers. "Here you have an individual who is trying to be responsible, and he's being thrown out of the bar because he wanted a Coke rather than a rum and Coke."

Maujean, 37, had been going to Carlie's Lounge for about 15 years. He met his wife there.

But on the night of June 2, he said in police reports and a lawsuit, the bar's new owner, Vincenzo Romano, came up to him and told him he would have to leave if he wasn't going to drink.

Maujean said his wife and friends had ordered several alcoholic drinks and food. He had also ordered a Coke. Maujean has epilepsy, so he can't drink and typically serves as the designated driver.

Maujean said Romano pulled him by the arm to go outside:

"He gets up in my face, and he said, 'All you had was Coke and water. I got employees to pay and a band I got to pay, and either drink something or get the hell out of the bar.' I told him again I was the designated driver."

Maujean said Romano pulled the exit door open and slammed it into Maujean as he walked back inside. Maujean said he put his arms up to protect himself, but it hit him in the forehead and arm. Then, he said, a bouncer, Stanley J. Clark, tackled him from behind.

Maujean called for an ambulance and police. He was taken to a hospital and treated. He pursued charges against Romano and Clark. But prosecutors decided not to charge the two men because, they said, "the case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Romano could not be reached for comment.

His 18-year-old son, Vincent, said his father just had major surgery and was not available.

However, in past interviews, Romano has denied Maujean's accusations.

"That's totally a lie," he said in August. "The customer was falling asleep at the bar."

Carlie's Lounge celebrated its first anniversary under new ownership during the weekend with a toga party.

The dispute over the rights of a designated driver has forged common ground between Maujean's attorney, Tom Carey, and Fasano, a high school dropout from New York who moved to Pasco County in the 1970s.

"A bar shouldn't be able to eject a patron for this," said Carey, a Clearwater lawyer who lost his wife to a drunken driver 24 years ago and now often represents victims of drunken drivers. (He also asked Fasano to sponsor a bill that would give a judge discretion to seize a person's car if the person is charged with drunken driving three times or more.)

Maujean racked up $5,000 in medical bills from the incident, Carey said.

Fasano hopes to get the designated driver bill passed during the next legislative session, which begins March 6. State Rep. Bill Heller has signed on as a House sponsor.

"I will tell you, the incident in which the gentleman throws out another because he is a designated driver, that happens once in a blue moon. It's very rare," Fasano said. "But it should never happen again."

[Last modified February 6, 2007, 01:47:38]


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