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Judge awards $15 million to crash victims

Gerald Mohs.jpg
Gerald Mohs
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An Olmsted County judge has awarded $15 million to the victims of a head-on crash that killed a 9-year-old boy, paralyzed a 7-year-old boy and seriously injured a woman.

Gerald Anthony Mohs, who was drunk when he drove the wrong way on a busy Rochester road, was sentenced in January 2015 to 57 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of felony vehicular homicide, one count of felony criminal vehicular operation and two gross misdemeanor counts of criminal vehicular operation.

Mohs and three drinking establishments that served him alcohol were the defendants in a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit filed in December 2014 by the families in the car he hit.

Closing arguments in the bench trial were made Sept. 20, exactly two years from the day of the crash. Judge Joseph Chase filed his ruling last week.

The drinking

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That day in 2014, Mohs — who'd been sober for 28 years before starting to drink again six months earlier — went to Treasure Island Resort and Casino in Welch , near Red Wing. It was his intention to gamble and drink to the point of intoxication, he said, using his wife as his designated driver.

The two had a drink together at the casino about 2 p.m., then parted ways to gamble. During the next two hours, Mohs purchased two drinks at a time — whiskey and soda — as he moved around the casino, buying the rounds at separate bars within the building. He estimated he had six to eight drinks before he and his wife left the casino about 4 p.m. and headed to The Tipsy Turtle , also in Welch.

Mohs, 59, testified he knew he was drunk when they left Treasure Island; his wife, however, said he hadn't displayed any outward signs of intoxication.

Mohs and his wife were at The Tipsy Turtle for about an hour, drinking in a pool room connected to the main room, ordering drinks from the lone bartender on duty that day.

Mohs' wife said he drank two drinks for every one she had; she remembered having at least four drinks served to her. Mohs likely had eight to 10 drinks there, experts said.

The bartender testified she didn't remember seeing the Mohses that day and claimed she wouldn't serve a patron more than one drink per hour, a claim Chase said he found "incredible."

Mohs' wife's testimony indicated he showed "obvious signs of intoxication," including slurring his words, bloodshot eyes, difficulty walking and starting to walk into the women's restroom at the bar.

The crash

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After the couple returned to their Rochester home, Mohs — who hadn't been legally licensed to drive for nearly 30 years — drove away in their vehicle while his wife was in the bathroom.

He drove to North Star Bar, 503 Broadway Ave. N, where he had four more drinks within about 45 minutes, then drove to Wicked Moose Bar and Grill , 1201 Eastgate Drive SE. He ordered and consumed one drink, then was denied a second before being "literally chased out of the business by a bartender," according to testimony.

The crash occurred less than a minute later, about 8:12 p.m., when Mohs made a left turn from the northbound lane of Marion Road but didn't go around the island dividing the four lanes of 12th Street Southeast. Instead, he drove west in the eastbound lanes.

Mohs encountered three eastbound vehicles; the first was able to swerve out of the way, avoiding contact. The second vehicle, driven by a 19-year-old Rochester woman, was clipped by Mohs' vehicle, which then hit the third vehicle head-on.

William 'Willy' Siems , 9, of Plainview, was in the third car, which was driven by his aunt, Amber Bishop, 29, also of Plainview. Her son, Jeramiya Bishop, 7, was in the back seat with Willy.

Mohs left the scene on foot and walked back to North Star Bar, about 2 miles away. He's seen on video arrive about 9:30 p.m., then leaving soon after without having a drink.

About 10:40 p.m., an officer on Wellner Drive Northwest saw a man staggering down the east sidewalk in the 3600 block of North Broadway, nearly five miles north of the crash site. The officer arrested Mohs after recognizing him as the suspect in the wrong-way incident earlier.

A preliminary breath test indicated an alcohol concentration of 0.172, more than two hours after the crash.

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The injuries

Willy suffered multiple internal injuries in the crash, as well as traumatic injuries that resulted in a "complete disruption of his brain and spinal cord," medical reports say. He was removed from life support the following morning.

His family incurred medical bills totaling $60,404; his funeral and burial expenses were $10,143.

Jeramiya suffered a traumatic brain injury and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Since the crash, his medical expenses have reached nearly $386,000.

Chase, "taking an optimistic view of Jeramiya's vocational and earnings outlooks," estimated his loss of future earnings at just more than $3.558 million.

Amber Bishop suffered a broken foot/ankle, as well as a "likely permanent injury" to her dominant hand.

She started the building utility maintenance program at Rochester Community and Technical College in January 2015 and did well academically, but her hand condition worsened, forcing her to withdraw. She's now in the accounting clerk program .

The ruling

Mohs was found to be 50 percent responsible for the fatal crash; sharing "causal fault" were The Tipsy Turtle bar in Red Wing, as well as North Star Bar and Wicked Moose Bar and Grill, both in Rochester.

Serving an "obviously" intoxicated person in a bar gives rise to a dram shop claim .

Though Mohs got drunk at Treasure Island, testimony indicated his intoxication wasn't obvious while he was there. Therefore, the business didn't make an illegal sale, Chase ruled, and had no liability in the crash.

The Tipsy Turtle illegally sold alcohol to Mohs when he obviously was intoxicated, which "substantially contributed to and caused" Mohs' intoxication. Chase apportioned its responsibility at 25 percent.

Both Rochester bars settled their claims through mediation: North Star Bar illegally sold four drinks to Mohs when he obviously was intoxicated and was assessed 20 percent responsibility. Wicked Moose's one-drink sale to Mohs resulted in 5 percent of the blame.

The damages

Willy's family has sustained "a catastrophic loss" as a result of his death, Chase said in his ruling. In addition to the payment of medical, funeral and burial expenses, he awarded the family $1 million.

Chase, "taking an optimistic view of Jeramiya's vocational and earnings outlooks," estimated his loss of future earnings at just more than $3.558 million. His lifetime care costs have been estimated at nearly $3 million, including specialized housing and vehicles, in addition to medical care and supplies.

Amber Bishop's past medical expenses and lost wages total $74,000. Chase awarded her that amount, as well as $1,335,585 for future pain, suffering and disability and loss of future earnings capacity.

Chase saved his most emotional comments for Jeramiya, "a boy who will never again run, play sports or participate in many of the enjoyable and formative activities of childhood and adolescence."

The judge went on to say "there is no yardstick to value Jeramiya's pain, suffering, emotional distress and impairment of function in monetary terms. What has been taken from Jeramiya is literally priceless.

"To put a dollar figure upon these (past) losses, as the court is compelled to do ... is reasonably valued at $1 million. His future pain, suffering, emotional distress and impairment of function is reasonably valued at $5 million."

obit 09-23 Siems William.jpg
William Siems

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