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Father Files Wrongful Death Suit After Son Dies in Drunk-Driving Accident

Posted on Jan 12, 2009

The father of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock filed a wrongful death lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court May 24, claiming Mike Shannon’s Steaks & Seafood Restaurant provided drinks to his son for nearly four hours on April 29, the night he was killed in an auto accident.

Father Said Drinks Kept Coming

Dean Hancock of Tupelo, Miss. did not specify financial damages sought in the suit. The restaurant is owned by Mike Shannon, Cardinals broadcaster and former third baseman on three World Series teams in the 1960s. Shannon is listed as a defendant in the suit, as is his daughter, Patricia Shannon Van Matre, the restaurant manager. In part, the lawsuit stated, “the intoxication of Joshua Morgan Hancock on said occasion was involuntary.” Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported May 25 Van Matre tried in vain to persuade Hancock to take a taxi from the restaurant.

Hancock, 29, died when his SUV rammed the back of a tow truck that was stopped in the left-hand lane with warning lights flashing on Interstate 64 in St. Louis just before 1 a.m.

Driver's BAC Was 0.157

Police said Hancock’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level was 0.157, almost twice Missouri’s legal BAC limit of 0.08. Police said Hancock was driving 68 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone and was talking on a cell phone upon impact. He was not wearing a seat belt. Police Chief Joe Mokwa said marijuana was found in Hancock’s SUV, but toxicology reports listed alcohol as the only intoxicant in Hancock’s system.

Suit Names Multiple Defendants

Other defendants in the father’s suit include Eddie's Towing, the company whose flatbed tow truck was struck by Hancock's SUV; tow truck driver Jacob Edward Hargrove and Justin Tolar, the driver whose car stalled on Interstate 64.

Keith Kantack, legal counsel for Hancock said, "It's understood that for the entire 3½ hours that Josh Hancock was there that he was handed drinks. It's our understanding that from the moment Josh Hancock entered Mike Shannon's [Restaurant] that night, he was never without a drink."

The suit claims Van Matre was present at the restaurant and knew Hancock was intoxicated but still allowed bar staff to serve him alcohol. The suit also states: Tolar was negligent in allowing his car to hit the wall and block the left-hand lane; Hargrove failed to provide adequate warning to approaching motorists; Tolar was negligent in allowing his vehicle to reach the point where it stalled on the highway and for failing to move it out of the way of oncoming traffic. A police report said the car became stalled when it spun out after being cut off by another vehicle.

Attorney Criticizes Towing Service

Police said Hargrove noticed the stalled vehicle and stopped to help. The report said he told officers he was there five-to-seven minutes before his truck was hit by Hancock's SUV. However, Kantack said the tow truck may have been there up to 15 minutes, yet failed to get the stalled vehicle out of the way.

"Were the police contacted?" Kantack said. "Why weren't flares put out? Why was the tow truck there for an exorbitant amount of time?"

Kantack said other defendants could be added. He declined to speculate on whether the Cardinals or Major League Baseball would be sued. Since the fatal accident, the Cardinals and eight other Major League Baseball teams have banned alcohol from the locker room following games. Five other clubs are reviewing current policies on making alcohol available to players. Hancock said in a statement, “The facts and circumstances of Josh's death have caused great pain to all of Josh's family." As administrator of his son's estate, the father said he has an obligation to represent the family on all issues, "including any legal actions necessary against those who contributed to the untimely and unnecessary death."

Bob Battle
100% of my practice is devoted to serious traffic defense and criminal litigation in state and federal courts