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February 10, 2006 - Veteran hit by drunken driver nets $15.2 million

A Rhode Island jury yesterday awarded $10.5 million to a Coast Guard veteran left paralyzed after being hit by a car driven by a drunken driver as he walked to a concert four years ago.

The jury found the driver, Timothy Beauregard of Westerly, Rhode Island, and Chen's Village Restaurant, the Westerly establishment that served him a mai tai, which contains rum, moments before the May 3, 2002 accident, negligent in the case. Daniel Ernst, 66, who now lives in the Rhode Island Veterans Home in Bristol, has since been paralyzed from the chest down.

According to court records, Beauregard, then 31, stopped at the Granite Street restaurant on his way home from work at around noon the day of the accident. He ordered a beer and another drink, a suffering bastard, which contains rum, and then headed to a liquor store, where he bought beer and a nip bottle of Southern Comfort. He drank a few beers and the liquor at home before returning to Chen's at 6 p.m. The same bartender who was working earlier in the day served him a mai tai and another beer, records show.

Ernst, who then lived in Charlestown, was on his way to a Scottish music concert at Westerly High School around 7 p.m. when he was hit by Beauregard's Oldsmobile as he walked in the crosswalk on Granite Street. Beauregard was turning left from John Street onto Granite about two minutes after leaving Chen's.

Beauregard admitted to a criminal charge of drunken driving, seriously bodily injury resulting, the next year and received a 10-year suspended sentence with probation from Superior Court Judge Edwin J. Gale. He lost his driver's license for two years.

Ernst, who now uses a wheelchair as a result of his spinal injury, subsequently filed a civil suit in Superior Court.

The jury held Beauregard 75 percent responsible for the accident at the close of the trial, with King Wa Restaurant Inc., doing business as Chen's, bearing the remaining responsibility, according to court records. The secretary of state Web site lists Leo C.K. Lau as the president of King Wa.

With interest, the verdict amounts to $15.2 million in compensatory damages, one of the largest awards in Washington County and one of few leveled against a bar in a drunken-driving case in Rhode Island.
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