Hannah Gilmer’s parents file lawsuit against two businesses

Attorney said Gilmer's parents are seeking unspecified damages

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJune 6, 2014 

The parents of a Columbus teenager killed in a drunken driving crash two years ago have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two businesses that allegedly sold alcohol to their daughter’s 17-year-old boyfriend on the evening she died.

Lisa and George M. Gilmer filed the suit against Circle K Stores Inc. and PALVI Inc., doing business as Maple Party Shop, in State Court late Friday. Their attorney, Ben Land, said they are seeking unspecified damages related to the June 15, 2012, death of their 16-year-old daughter, Hannah.

Clayton Qualls, who was driving when Gilmer was killed in the County Line Road crash, pleaded guilty in April to first-degree vehicular homicide and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

The civil suit seeks unspecified financial damages.

“We’re going to leave that up the jury to place an amount it deems appropriate for the life of Hannah Gilmer,” Land said. “We will be asking for a substantial award.”

Gilmer had completed her sophomore year at Northside High School at the time of her death. Qualls was a rising senior at Northside.

Austin Lott and Daniel Hughes Massengale tried to hide the alcohol after the crash as Gilmer struggled to breathe after being thrown from the car, Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus said at Qualls’ hearing in April. The district attorney’s office is moving forward with felony evidence tampering cases against Lott and Massengale.

The civil suit filed on Friday does not name Qualls, Lott or Massengale.

“We have resolved our claims involving the other individuals involved,” said Land, who declined to disclose the amount of those settlements.

Qualls has accepted responsibility for his role in Gilmer’s death, he said.

“He is paying his debt to society in the state prison system,” Land said. “And we believe it is time for these stores that illegally sold alcohol to a 17-year-old kid to accept their roles in this case. That is the purpose in this lawsuit.”

The suit outlines how Qualls allegedly purchased alcohol that night with an altered driver’s license. Circle K sold a 30-pack of Keystone Light beer to Qualls, who was 17 at time.

The suit claims that Qualls presented a fake ID that did not have his photo on it, and clearly stated “under 21” until April 18, 2013.

“At the time of the sale of alcohol to Clayton Qualls on June 15, 2012, Circle K knew, or through the exercise of reasonable care, should have known, that Clayton Qualls was under the lawful drinking age and would soon be driving a motor vehicle,” according to the suit.

When Circle K rang up the sale, the suit states, the computerized cash register the clerk was operating alerted her that the customer was under the legal drinking age of 21.

“Circle K proceeded to make the sale anyway,” the suit claims.

Qualls then went to the Maple Party Shop at 8328 Veterans Parkway, where he purchased a bottle of vodka using the same ID he had used at Circle K, according to the suit.

Qualls drank beer and shots of vodka between 7 and 11 p.m.

Moments before the fatal crash, Qualls, who was driving Gilmer’s 2006 Scion, was racing along County Line Road, trying to pass Lott and Massengale’s vehicles, the assistant district attorney told the court in April. One of the teenagers saw the Scion crash, and the two rushed to the scene where they allegedly helped hide beer, Lambertus said. Twenty-three minutes passed before anyone called 911 to help Gilmer.

Qualls was charged with DUI in Harris County less than two weeks before the fatal crash. He has since pleaded guilty to that charge.

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