The Dufur City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend denial of the Dufur Pastime’s liquor license after the Wasco County sheriff urged the vote in the interest of public safety.
Sheriff Lane Magill told the council he was prompted to take action after a fatal crash in July that killed two people. The driver and a passenger were killed, and both had been drinking at the Pastime just prior to the accident, which happened about a mile from the establishment, police reported.
In a letter he read to the council, Magill said “witness reports, at this time, indicate both subjects were consuming large amounts of alcohol while at the Pastime.”
Magill listed what he called a history of persistent problems with the Pastime, including five other drunk driving incidents since 2013 — three of them crashes — where all of the people arrested admitted to drinking at the Pastime.
One of those arrested had a blood-alcohol concentration level of .45, and the legal intoxication limit in Oregon is .08. Magill said that reading was the second highest in the last 30 years at the sheriff’s office. Other readings from the other drunk driving incidents were .33, .26, .14 and .17.
Magill said he is awaiting toxicology results in the double-fatal crash.
“It appears there’s a significant issue with the Pastime overserving customers,” Magill said.
He said, “This is not taken lightly by me to do this. This has never been done in this fashion before. I’m not doing this as a vendetta, this is a true public safety issue in your community.”
Before the council voted, Mayor Robert Wallace said, “part of the issue I have with it is we don’t have a lot of the facts and sheriff’s reports …. We’re going on hearsay.”
An audience member responded, “I think the hearsay is pretty well gone with what the sheriff said tonight.”
Dufur City Councilor Doug Peters made the motion to deny the application, noting some of the drunk driving arrests included blood-alcohol readings that were four to five times the legal limit.
Councilor Leona Egeland seconded the motion, but also noted that people who drink at other places typically end their evening at the Pastime.
In June, before the fatal crash, the city council voted to “take no action” — meaning neither to approve nor deny — the liquor license of the Pastime. It has until September to forward its decision to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).
Magill will also recommend denying the Pastime’s application for a liquor license to state regulators. The OLCC has the final say, and the Pastime can stay open while the agency investigates the matter.
Magill said that after the fatal crash, he was contacted by five to 10 people asking him to do something about the Pastime.
Former Wasco County Sheriff Rick Eiesland recommended the Pastime be denied a liquor license after a 2010 incident where a man was seriously injured in a fight there. The man was lifeflighted to Portland.
Later, in connection with that fight, a woman who managed the Pastime was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence — she was accused of erasing surveillance tape showing the fight — and harboring a fugitive, who was the suspect in the fight, Magill said.
The OLCC fined the Pastime and took away its Lottery, but did not pull the license, saying there was not a required history of wrongdoing.
Magill maintains there is sufficient history now.
He also said of the previous effort by Eiesland that “It got really political at the end and it’s my intention to follow it all the way through politically.”
Cliff Wirtz, who has owned the Pastime for 35 years, said “It’s all up to the OLCC. OLCC hasn’t charged me with a thing yet. I haven’t been ticketed for anything.”
Wirtz was at the meeting but did not speak. He told a reporter later his grandson was in the pick-up that crashed in the July double-fatal. “Do you think I’d let them drive drunk?”
He said he’d been at the Pastime earlier the day of the crash, but had left some hours before his grandson and the others in the vehicle left.
He said observing signs of intoxication is a judgment call. “In whose opinion” is someone impaired, he said. “When I see signs of it, they get cut off.”
He said if the OLCC denies his liquor license, “I’ll close up. Makes no difference to me.” Wirtz said he’s never had a ticket from the OLCC for overserving. He has eight part-time employees, and said most of his business is from selling food, not alcohol.
Magill said the sheriff’s office has received information in the last 12-18 months about drug activity “that appears to have a direct correlation with the Dufur Pastime. It should be noted none of this information has been substantiated; however, the sheriff’s office is actively pursuing all leads.”
Magill said he went to high school in Dufur, and his sports teams used to eat breakfast at the Pastime. He said he would not enter the establishment now. “It’s completely degraded itself into something that isn’t what Dufur is,” he said.
Dufur City Attorney Paul Sumner noted Eiesland’s past effort to close the Pastime failed. He said it was his experience that the OLCC relies more on its own investigation than relying on input from other agencies.