Chinese restaurant fined $100,000

Jack Perreault, Hunter Vars and Malachi Davis died after their car crashed in Kensington on Feb. 29, 2016.

BRENTWOOD -- A Chinese restaurant in Stratham was slapped with a $100,000 fine Friday after recently being convicted of serving alcohol to an underage man who later died in a car crash in Kensington that also killed two of his childhood friends.

Rockingham County Superior Court Judge N. William Delker handed down the sentence after a jury convicted Jade Palace of serving alcohol to 20-year-old Jack Perreault on the night of Feb. 29, 2016.

Perreault was behind the wheel of a 2001 Toyota 4Runner when it went off Route 108, hit several trees and rolled. He and friends Malachi Davis, 21, and Hunter Vars, 21 -- all of East Kingston -- died of injuries in the crash that happened shortly after they had consumed zombie drinks at Jade Palace.

“Your conduct in this case and the conduct of your business led directly to the death of these three boys. Jack Perreault was driving and you served him alcohol under the age of 21,” Delker told restaurant owner Alan Yang.

The restaurant had also been accused of over-serving the three young men, but a jury found it not guilty on those charges.

In addition to the fine, Jade Palace was also hit with a $24,000 penalty assessment.

Delker gave Yang options to avoid paying the $100,000 fine. According to the sentence, Yang can pay the entire fine to the county by March 1 or have the fine and penalty assessment suspended for three years if he agrees to relinquish the restaurant’s liquor license for a year or voluntarily pay $25,000 by March 1 to one or more organizations focused on preventing and deterring underage drinking.

Assistant County Attorney Melissa Fales pushed for the maximum $100,000 fine, saying a message needs to be sent that business owners with liquor licenses have a big responsibility.

“Alcohol is dangerous. It’s profitable, but it’s dangerous,” she said.

Defense attorney Jerome Blanchard argued that a $5,000 fine was more appropriate, but Delker called his recommendation “offensive” and not consistent with the law.

He said the sentence should have a deterrent effect on Jade Palace and other businesses that “need to make a decision about whether to risk the consequences of violating the law.”

The mothers of the three men killed urged the court to impose the maximum fine allowed. They said they were satisfied with the judge’s sentence, but hope the restaurant, which is also facing civil lawsuits, is eventually forced to close.

Perreault’s mother, Hope McDonald, held a framed picture of her son as she spoke directly to Yang and insisted that he showed a pattern of over-serving customers.

“Mr. Yang, you served him drink after drink after drink and you shut him off and you sent him on his way with his two best friends. Now all three of them are dead. We have empty seats at our tables. We have Christmas stockings with names. We have families who have not been able to put themselves together and you run a business and you carry about your day and you may or may not be serving others the way that you served our boys,” she said.

The restaurant was cited by the state liquor commission twice in the past for over-serving violations, and faced fines and license suspensions. One of the brief suspensions happened just a few weeks before the Kensington crash.

“It has been shown that your only concern is to make money with no regard for life,” said Vars’ mother, Debra Vars.

Blanchard argued that it’s not uncommon for an establishment that serves alcohol to face at least a couple of violations.

“I’m not saying it’s good. Don’t get me wrong, your honor,” he told the judge.

He also insisted that prosecutors were trying to paint Jade Palace as a “corporate monster” that needed to be stopped. Several people wrote character letters on behalf of the restaurant and attended Friday’s sentencing.

“At the end of the day, nothing is going to bring anything to the families as far as relief goes,” Blanchard said.

rockinghamnews@unionleader.com