For selling alcohol to minors, a $716 million judgment - FOX 13 News

For selling alcohol to minors, a $716 million judgment

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RIVERVIEW (FOX 13) -

It was the drunk driving accident that killed a Riverview man more than four years ago, when a 17-year-old lost control of his Camaro and slammed into a car driven by Sammy Garcia.

The convenience store that provided him with the alcohol has just been ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars. 

It was a staggering number, a $716 million judgment.

The jury sent a message loud and clear to anyone who sells alcohol in Hillsborough County. If you sell it to minors, you will ruin lives.

It was a record-setting verdict May 10, when a jury awarded Garcia's family the money in a wrongful death suit.

"That's a hard number for anybody to grasp," said Rolando Santiago, co-counsel for the case lead by Attorney Bill Gilbert.  "Certainly that day, at that moment, I don't think any of us did."

Santiago said Garcia's parents, Sam Sr. and Sally, waited two years for this.

"Sally felt that Sammy was present that day and that Sammy got some justice that day," Santiago said. "They're still hurting."

In a videotaped deposition, Sammy's father recalled their final conversation.

"The last words we exchanged were words of love and affection toward each other and then the end came," said Garcia tearfully.

It was Feb. 28, 2008, when the 32-year-old Garcia was in his car and stopped outside the Circles Restaurant in Apollo Beach, when then-17-year-old East Bay High senior David Holdsworth drank almost twice the legal limit and slammed into Garcia.

"There's a car wreck, Apollo Beach Boulevard," were the words of a frantic caller to the dispatcher at the Hillsborough County 911 Center.

Holdsworth admitted he'd bought alcohol twice that day at the Best For Less Food Mart.

"A twelve-pack of beer and some extra-powerful beer called Tilt," Santiago said.

During the trial, teens testified the food mart was well-known among East Bay High Students as a place where they could buy alcohol.

It was owned by Nassir and Wendy Ayyoub. 

We stopped by the Best For Less Food Mart, now called the Apollo Beach Food Market.

Nassir or Wendy Ayyoub were on vacation, an employee said.

Throughout the trial, Santiago said Ayyoub denied anyone sold alcohol to minors and stuck by that story to the very end of the trial.

Garcia's family is still trying to come to grips with the settlement.

"He had a lot of energy, he used to say, you'll sleep when you die," sobbed his fiancé, Heather Johnson, in a videotaped deposition provided to FOX 13.

Santiago had these parting words for anyone who's ever thought it was OK to sell alcohol to a minor in Hillsborough County.

"There are unintended consequences they couldn't possibly fathom," he said. "Don't do it."

Sammy's parents said they would like to see changes in the laws, which would make the sale of alcohol to minors a misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders. 

Holdsworth pled guilty to negligent homicide and is about halfway through serving his five-year prison sentence.

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