FORT WORTH — The general manager of the Rainbow Lounge this week dismissed speculation that a bartender killed in a car wreck early Sunday, July 26 had been drinking at the establishment prior to the accident.
Arlington police said Bradley Larson, 41, was traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph in his Honda Accord when he rear-ended an 18-wheeler on eastbound Interstate 30 at about 6:15 a.m.
Police said they believe the wreck may have been alcohol-related because they found two closed containers of beer in Larson’s car. They also found a white powdery substance that was identified through field tests as an illegal substance.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting toxicology tests to determine Larson’s blood-alcohol content, and Arlington police are trying to figure out where he’d been immediately prior to the wreck.
If it’s determined that Larson, who’d worked on Saturday night, had been drinking at the Rainbow Lounge after hours, it could mean serious penalties for the bar from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Randy Norman, Rainbow Lounge general manager, said the bar closed at 2 a.m. Sunday and he saw Larson leave at about 4 a.m.
"I don’t know where he went afterward," Norman said Tuesday. "Brad was definitely not intoxicated when he left this bar. Our policy is no tolerance on drinking by staff."
Linda Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, said Thursday, July 30, that no results were available from the toxicology tests.
Anderson said the tests typically take four to six weeks.
Carolyn Beck, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said it isn’t against the law for bartenders to consume alcohol while working, as long as they don’t become intoxicated.
However, Beck said it’s illegal for an employee to be intoxicated on the premises of a bar, or for anyone to consume alcohol on the premises after 2:15 a.m.
In other recent cases in Texas where people have left bars intoxicated and caused fatal accidents — including one involving Minute Maid Park in Houston — TABC has gone after liquor licenses.
"When an alcohol-related fatality is attributed to a TABC-licensed premises (for example because of sale or service to a minor or intoxicated person), when determined appropriate based on the circumstances of the case, we have in the past moved for cancellation of the license or permit, even if there have been no previous violations," Beck said in an e-mail this week.
Beck said TABC, which was notified about the wreck by Arlington police, has done some initial fact-finding but won’t launch a formal investigation into Larson’s death unless it’s determined that he was intoxicated.
If TABC were to initiate action against the Rainbow Lounge for alleged violations related to Larson’s death, it would be an ironic twist in the saga that began when commission agents and Fort Worth police raided the establishment on June 28.
The raid, which occurred on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, has prompted a huge outcry from the North Texas LGBT community, based on allegations of excessive force and selective enforcement.
In response, TABC and Fort Worth police are conducting internal investigations into the raid, and the city of Fort Worth has established a Diversity Task Force.
Norman this week acknowledged that between the raid and Larson’s death, it’s been a difficult first month for the Rainbow Lounge, which first opened in June. But Norman said he thinks the bar will pull through thanks to strong support from the LGBT community.
The Rainbow Lounge hosted a benefit to help cover funeral expenses for Larson on Wednesday night, just days after the bar held a benefit to help cover medical expenses for Chad Gibson, who was seriously injured in the raid.
Norman called Larson "one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met."
David Taggart, an entertainer at the Rainbow Lounge who knew Larson, said Larson was very upbeat and had a zest for life despite the fact that his partner of many years had died suddenly in 2008. Taggart said he’d previously worked alongside Larson at the Tin Room in Dallas, and he called him "one of the best bartenders that I’ve ever seen."
"You could call Brad day or night and talk to him about anything, and he would totally be there," Taggart said. "I’ve never felt more like a part of the family than I did with Brad Larson and the other guys I’ve been working with at the Rainbow Lounge."
Taggart, who didn’t work a the Rainbow Lounge that night, also said he doubted Larson was intoxicated at the time of the wreck.
Records show Larson had been arrested in Dallas on charges of DWI and possession of a controlled substance the week before the wreck. He was free on bail.
Larson also had a DWI conviction from 1999.
Jon Nelson, a gay attorney who helped start a group called Fairness Fort Worth in the wake of the raid and now sits on the city’s Diversity Task Force, said he doesn’t believe Larson’s death will have any impact on the progress that’s being made.
"I’m sure that people will leap on the death of Brad Larson as a reason to justify the TABC’s actions or whoever’s actions [in the raid], but how do you get there? What’s the connection? There isn’t any," Nelson said.
"It’s an unfortunate incident, and we don’t have all the facts. But even with all the facts, one way or the other, it’s not going to impact our moving forward.
"The die is cast, and the longer the committee [Task Force] meets, the less we will think about it being triggered by the incident at the Rainbow Lounge. It has in fact a life of its own," Nelson said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2009.