The estate of a man who was killed in a drunken driving incident in 2017 and a victim of the crash who survived are suing former owners of the Prineville bar that over-served Justin Bittick, who was drunk when he caused the rollover wreck that killed two and severely injured two others.
The estate of Stephan Mitchell Leader-Bowles filed suit in Crook County Circuit Court against Cooler Bar LLC, which owned the Horseshoe Saloon, for $2.1 million for wrongful death and other claims. The bar is now under different ownership as the Horseshoe Tavern.
October 20, 2017, was Bittick’s 37th birthday. He went to Horseshoe Saloon by himself and drank to intoxication, according to court records.
He met several others at the bar and eventually persuaded four of them to return with him to his home to continue partying.
Around 12:30 a.m., they got into his 1987 Nissan Maxima. At first, Leader-Bowles drove because he was sober and Bittick seemed to be too intoxicated to drive, according to court testimony. But the group got lost near Bittick’s home and he persuaded Leader-Bowles to let him drive the remainder of the way. Bittick proceeded to drive erratically and at high speeds, terrifying everyone in the car, survivors testified.
Around 2:22 a.m., a single-vehicle rollover crash was reported 20 miles southwest of Prineville on Reservoir Road. Leader-Bowles was killed instantly, as was fellow passenger Caleb Austin Williams.
Passengers Alex Shaver and Corrine Hatchell were severely injured, as was Bittick, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and could not remember any of the night in question.
Two months after the crash, Bittick was charged with first-degree manslaughter. He fought the charges at trial, but a judge found him guilty. He was sentenced in July to 20 years in prison.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission revoked the Horseshoe Saloon's liquor license and sanctioned the bar employee who served Bittick.
Leader-Bowles’ estate filed the wrongful death action against Cooler Bar LLC, which then owned the Horseshoe Saloon. Lawyers for Cooler Bar filed motions, challenging facts in the pleadings, and plaintiffs’ attorneys have filed responses.
Janette Leader Hill, mother of Leader-Bowles, is seeking $1.25 million in noneconomic damages and “costs and disbursements.” Shaver, who suffered a broken neck and was “permanently” injured in the wreck, is seeking $900,000.
Bittick is currently an inmate of the Snake River Correctional Institution. His earliest release date is in 2038.
Editor's note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the ownership of the bar. The Bulletin regrets the error.