In Lawsuit Hell, Party Ranch Bar Owner Gives Up


A grieving mother who lost her daughter to a drunk driver in 2012 was granted $5 million in damages by a Tom Green County court on Monday, after nearly two years tied up in a lawsuit against Tracy Lawson, the owner of the Party Ranch bar. 

Judith Gartrell filed the lawsuit against the Party Ranch on July 25, 2013, eight months after her daughter Teresa, 32, climbed into the passenger seat of a vehicle with then 26-year-old Carl Bevers at the wheel and sped around the loop.

Bevers, whose blood-alcohol level was 0.199 on the night of the crash, hit a car that was backing out of a driveway in the 3100 block of Houston Harte on the access road, injuring himself, Teresa and the two occupants of the other vehicle. All four were transported to the hospital with injuries; Teresa later succumbed to the injuries and died.

“The accident happened because he was an idiot,” Tracy Lawson said on Monday following the $5 million judgment. “He couldn’t drive in the first place. I had witnesses lined up that said he couldn’t drive…he was just a really bad driver.”

Lawson said Bevers and Teresa had come from Buffalo Wild Wings on that Wednesday night and were out on the patio at the Party Ranch on the night of the incident. The bartenders, he said, never served Bevers.

“The girl that was killed—Teresa, his girlfriend—would come up to the bar and get beers and drinks,” Lawson said. “She wasn’t intoxicated, so we were serving her—or my bartender was serving her—and she was carrying them back and he was drinking them.”

Lawson said he isn’t sure how a bar is supposed to monitor those types of situations and named a couple of other establishments where maintaining a clear view of patrons isn’t possible.

He said that as for the crash itself, he couldn’t attest as to where the couple went after leaving The Party Ranch, but stated 40-45 minutes elapsed between leaving his bar and the car crash.

Attorney Guy Choate, who along with Mary Golder was legal co-counsel for Judith Gartrell, said that there was a video of Carl Bevers dancing on the bar at the Party Ranch that was posted on a website the night of this tragedy and was later taken down.

"They were serving an obviously intoxicated person," Choate said. "Lawson certainly could have presented the 'defenses' he claims, but they were found lacking when the TABC took his license to operate and were not credible." (See video, below)


As the investigation continued, Bevers was indicted on two felonies, including second-degree intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle and third-degree intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury.

With those charges pending, Teresa’s mother filed suit against the Party Ranch, who she found liable for her daughter’s death by negligently overserving Bevers. She was seeking monetary relief for past and future “grief, sorrow, mental anguish, loss of companionship and society,” court documents state.

But the lawsuits against Lawson and the Party Ranch didn’t start there, nor was it the first fatality that would later be attributed to intoxicated patrons of the bar.

In March 2013, when Allen Schmidt helped a drunken Malcolm McBurnett push his truck into the dimly lit road in front of the Party Ranch, an approaching motorcyclist, off-duty U.S. Marine Donald Di Pietro, couldn’t see the vehicle and crashed into the side, killing him.

A little over a month and a half later, on April 25, 2013, Di Pietro’s father, Don Di Pietro, filed a lawsuit against Lawson, McBurnett and Schmidt seeking monetary relief in excess of $1 million. Judith Gartrell soon followed suit.

“The Carl Bevers accident happened in November of 2012 and really, it was kind of forgotten about,” Lawson said. “Nobody said anything about it or anything until the accident happened right here in front of the bar [involving Di Pietro], and then all of a sudden, they filed the lawsuit for the accident in front of the bar, and then they filed the other lawsuit against the other one. Like they thought, ‘well, hell, if we’re going to sue him, let’s just sue the hell out of him!’”

The Di Pietro suit was scheduled to go before a jury in June, however because Lawson has failed to appear at at least the last two hearings, a default hearing has been scheduled for April 17.

Golder said in a Monday interview that Lawson had been attending all hearings in both cases quite diligently until recently, and was surprised when he didn’t show up for the hearing on the Gartrell case on Monday.

Despite his absence, Golder and Gartrell’s other attorney, Guy Choate, presented evidence to support their case in court on Monday, and a judgment was issued following the hearing that he pay $2.5 million for past damages and $2.5 million for those incurred in the future.

“The court had already found that he was negligent, because previously he had failed to comply with discovery requests, so as a sanction, the court entered a finding of negligence,” Golder explained. “So the only issue left to try was that of damages, and…he had agreed to waive a jury trial for that portion of the case…but he didn’t show up today.”

Based on his Monday interview, Lawson seems to have just given up. He spoke of McBurnett, a known drunk with at least two prior felony DWI convictions and noted how he had been released on a personal recognizance bond for another DWI roughly two weeks before the crash that killed Di Pietro.

He said he felt that he was never given a chance to succeed out on Christoval Road and felt sabotaged by law enforcement officers who would wait down the road to hand out DWIs and pin them on the bar.

“That’s another problem that I had because I’m thinking the people in this town, they want to pick on the small guy, which is me,” Lawson said. “Because I ain’t got a lot of money. I can’t afford to go out of town and hire a damn big-time attorney. So they blocked all the attorneys here in this town…that made it where it was impossible for me to hire an attorney here.”

After being “blocked” from successfully seeking counsel, Lawson chose to represent himself, which he admitted was an impossibility. In both cases, Lawson was found to be negligent after ignoring requests for evidence from the plaintiff’s attorneys and failing to respond to subsequent motions.

“I gave it a shot and they pulled their trick cards out—the attorneys—and next thing you know I didn’t even get a trial…” Lawson said. “There’s no sense in me showing up for the other hearings, ‘cause what’s the sense of it? I’m going to lose that case, too, so there’s going to be another big write-up here in June.”

Lawson said the only thing he owns is the building on Christoval Road, and “the bank owns it, really”. He had taken out a loan to open the Party Ranch and said he still owes approximately $200,000 on it, which is more than he feels the building is worth.

He said he doesn’t understand why he’s being sued for large sums of money he doesn’t have, but assumes the suits will inevitably end up in judgments, as the one on Monday was settled.

Golder stated she felt that money would probably never exchange hands for her client, but said that wasn’t the point of the lawsuit. She and Choate worked on the case pro bono, “because it was the right thing to do,” she said.

“We knew we were never going to recover any assets from him, but our goal has always been to put the Party Ranch out of business,” Golder said. “This, coupled with the death of the marine, Mr. Di Pietro, was just a business that needed to be shut down. And we feel good only to the extent that I think we’ve accomplished that.”

Teresa Gartrell was 32 years old when she got into the vehicle on Nov. 21, 2012 and was killed as a result of the crash. Her decision-making abilities, however, were comparable to that of a teenager due to a genetic disorder called Crouzon Syndrome that delayed her mental development.

At 10.5 months old, Teresa was adopted by Gerry and Judith Gartrell, who knew she had a genetic disorder but still wanted to take the child into their home, Golder explained.

Years of hard work at school, surgeries and other struggles drew the family close, and Teresa stayed at home until she was 30, working as a waitress with her mother, who managed several restaurants in Robert Lee and San Angelo.

“This was a child with very special needs, a family that desperately wanted her and raised her and took great care of her, and at 30 it was time for her to move out and her judgment was not the best because of the…Crouzon’s Syndrome, and she made a bad choice and it killed her,” Golder said. “So that’s why she’s in the car with this guy. She’s not thinking very clearly. Her judgment was not that comparable to her chronological age.”

After Teresa’s death, Gerry Gartrell, the victim's father, who had developed an early form of dementia, died within 90 days. Judith then moved out of Robert Lee to Kerrville; there was too much tragedy in the home the family last shared together.

Carl Bevers, now 28, is incarcerated at the Tulia Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He was sentenced to 10 years on Nov. 12, 2013 for intoxication assault with a vehicle causing serious bodily injury and 20 years for intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle.

On March 21 of this year, Bevers came up for parole, but was denied. Judith Gartrell wrote a letter to the parole board expressing her concern about him being released onto the streets to commit this kind of act again, Golder said.

Allen Schmidt, the co-defendant in the Di Pietro death case, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years probation on Aug. 20 last year. Malcolm McBurnett has been committed to a mental institution

*Amanda Henson and Joe Hyde contributed to this report.

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Just a shame these two lives had to be tragically lost in the manner that they were. It's a bigger shame that Lawson wants to make it all out to be their fault, that they put themselves in this position. AND, it an even bigger shame that Lawson can't be sentenced to jail until every last penny of this award is paid in full......

jdgt, Tue, 04/07/2015 - 10:05

Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Perhaps bar owners should charge MORE MONEY to cover the expense of having "sober sitters" on duty to babysit grown adults from now on? Whatever happened to having a PLAN when you go out... calling a taxi or having someone take you home who can get you there safely?

Think of all the lawsuits people would file on McDonald's or Burger King or whoever else... for continuing to serve their trash to fat people? Said fat person eventually dies from cholesterol or heart failure or... whatever... Shouldn't the people of McDonald's have KNOWN that the individual was in danger? Why didn't they hand out a coupon for gym membership at the drive-thru, instead?

My point is, once you reach a certain age... YOU should be held responsible for your actions... YOU!

In both cases, the persons responsible for taking a life are already serving time. Here's the most disturbing quote from the story: “We knew we were never going to recover any assets from him, but our goal has always been to put the Party Ranch out of business". (Shorter: "We can't get blood out of a turnip, so let's destroy someone financially for the rest of their life.") Justice was served when Bevers and Schmidt were sentenced, and McBurnett was sent away. I feel bad for the Gartrell and DiPietro families, but we're confusing revenge for justice. This is a disproportionate level of punishment against those they perceive have done them wrong. If someone is killed, the only way to right the wrong is to bring the dead person back. Since this is impossible, there is no real justice to be found. Sure, we seek an eye for an eye, and imprison people for committing an illegal homicide, but that's just so they don't murder again. What greater good does it serve to punish Lawson in such an extreme way? Following this logic, why not sue the brewery, distillery, or the auto maker? They all had a part in these deaths too. I know seeing someone chased with torches and pitchforks satisfies our sense of vengeance, but is that really who we want to be? Seek justice, but leave vengeance up to God.

All good points gentlemen...

In my opinion the person and or persons that really needs to be investigated further is Di Pietro 's case is Melvin Gray , the owner of the truck at the time McBurnett was hit while stalled in the street, as well as the Tom Green County Sheriff's Department for letting McBurnett out 2 weeks earlier on a Personal Recognizance Bond for yet another DWI after previously being convicted of multiple DWI's.

But do you think in the "GOOD OLE BOY" town of San Angelo, Texas that Webbs, Stokes and Sparks would EVER go after a fellow attorney or the Sheriff's Office?

Not a chance in ****.

Yea we have BLIND JUSTICE unless it's against one of their own!!!!

Another question, Why is Melvin Gray hiding McBurnett out in a nut house???

This whole deal stinks to high heaven.

Just like the dead child molester who's will was forged and perjury charges are pending against another local attorney and bail bondsman.

Not hearing much about that deal in the news are we????

At least the Texas Rangers are involved in that one. Maybe the truth will come out.

In a nut shell people need to be responsible for their own actions.

The drunks should not have driven... The young lady should have not ridden with a drunk.. The motorcyclists should not have been speeding and avoided the stalled truck like numerous cars had done. The City of San Angelo should have lite Christoval Rd up and reduced the speed as numerous business owners in that area have requested. The Tom Green Cty Sheriff's Dept. should not have let McBurnett out on the street again. Melvin Gray should not have gotten McBurnett off of so many DWI's. Melvin Gray should not have knowingly let a known drunk drive a vehicle registered in his name.

We can go on and on an on.

But Tracy was not even at the bar the night Di Pietro was involved in the accident.

As for Bevers dancing on the bar, the video shows him on the stage... THE STAGE.. singing KARAOKE.. And although he can hold a tune, his speech is not slurred, so how do you know he is drunk???

This is a total waste of time and money.

KARMA.... It will come around..

I just hope I can see it!!!!

I couldn't agree more...whatever happened to personal responsibility? But to correct a misconception...accident reconstruction showed that GySgt Di Pietro was not speeding, nor have I read anywhere that other cars had gone around the stalled truck in the middle of the road before DP and his friend came upon the scene. I just want to know how it's the bar owner's fault that a bunch of idiots decided to push their stalled truck out on to a busy two lane road, speed limit 55 mph, in the dark.

Also, are the young lady's parents suing Buffalo Wild Wings also? I bet she could get some money from them, they're a big corporation. I wonder if they want to close down BWW also?

You guys are absolutely right. How is it the bar owners fault that a mentally retarded woman chose to get in with a drunk driver and was killed? Is he supposed to give a breathalyzer to everyone ordering a beer and then hover over them to make sure they're the one drinking it. Personal responsibility! We're raising a generation of wusses blaming everyone else for their mistakes. Grow up.

Tracy Lawson was the owner of the bar where two people were killed as a result of people being over-served in his bar. Lawson was responsible for training his employees to not over-serve people. He sure didn't have a problem accepting the money he made by over-serving people so he is responsible for two people being killed as a result of being over-served. Lawson's line of thinking represents what an evil man he is and also the fact that he didn't even carry insurance on the bar proves his total selfishness and greed. I sat in the courtroom for Schmidt's trial and watched video of McBurnett stumbling into the Party Ranch very drunk and yet he was still served by Samatha Turner, and although my son lay dying in the road, Samatha Tuner still served Allen Schmidt another drink as he walked away from my son. It is not about receiving money - it is a very sick idea that a mother or father would be comforted by any amount of money as a result of their child being killed. Suing in a civil court is a way to try to obtain justice, which means punishment, for horrible people killing your child. Also, it is a way to get it in writing, for the whole world to see, now and for the rest of time, what these horrible people did. Additionally, it is a way to shame the parents who created these monsters. Others should see our actions as a warning of how they can be punished if they choose this path. Money is not the motivation, revenge is, and even if revenge is not accomplished, I feel good that I have tried everything in my power to punish. I have let go of the hate because it was killing me and I have given it to God who WILL judge and punish accordingly.

Ms. Bond - you say, "I have let go of the hate because it was killing me and I have given it to God who WILL judge and punish accordingly." While a few sentences earlier you say, "Additionally, it is a way to shame the parents who created these monsters." Sounds like haven't really let go of the hate. Sounds like you're just re-directing your hate to the parents and I can't imagine what can be accomplished by that. You will never get out from under the weight of this tragedy while you keep holding on to blaming someone - anyone. I don't claim to know what you're going through, and I do hope that you can move on to a better place in life. Reading comments on articles like this only serves to make you look backwards and re-live the tragedy. I leaves an open wound that can only fester and get worse. It doesn't seem that closure can be reached by looking backwards. I hope you can find a place to focus your energy that will both honor your son's memory and in some way ease your suffering.

Mrs. DiPietro, let me start off by saying that I am very sorry for your loss. What an incredibly tragic loss. My heart ached when I learned about this back when it happened. I can't imagine what a parent would feel. I would never pretend to put myself in your shoes.

With that being said, I would like to address your comment above. I have read your comments before about having these folks stalked, gathering information and trying to dig up as much dirt as you could on them. I didn't think too much of it at the time because as I stated, I couldn't imagine what your going through. But with this last post, it would seem your beyond the initial shock and grief and have moved to (admittedly) revenge. This is sickening. You claim that Lawson is an evil man that killed your son. KILLED him. Whether he (or his bar tenders) over served or not, which dancing on a STAGE is no proof of, saying that a man trying to make a living running a business that you don't agree with has committed murder seems a bit overboard. The people that pushed the hunk of steel into the street with no lights on, that your son ran into: Now saying that those guys killed your son, that would seem a bit more appropriate. As stated, there are tons of other variables, other avenues to pursue to exact your so-called revenge. You could have sued the courts or lawyers for releasing a known drunk after DWI convictions, the highway department for not lighting the roadway or reducing the speed, etc. But those entities would have had money to fight back... You want to talk about Mr. Lawsons selfishness and greed. Your entire rant, in my opinion, wreaks of your own! I can understand looking for someone to blame, but the ones that were truly responsible have been dealt with. That didn't satisfy your need for revenge so you dug deeper. You claim its a sick idea that a parent seek money after a child is killed. How is it any better to seek destruction of lives? You claim to have let go, but I say you have not. You think that Lawson is just as guilty in destroying your son's life as the ones who *actually did*, even though he had no direct interaction. So that must make it ok for me to deduce that even though you have not had any direct interaction with Lawson, you have destroyed his life. Does that make you a killer as well? Time will tell who will be judged and punished accordingly, as you pointed out. How about a quote:

'Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.'
Romans 12:19

I don't go to church, just providing that for your sake. And I don't go to bars any more. So don't think I'm trying to defend some die hard way of life. As a matter of fact, I used to go to bars and drink all the time as a young man. I got into my fair share of trouble, and got myself out of it. I grew up and realized that if I didn't stop, then some day *I* was going to get someone hurt or killed. It never once crossed my mind to blame someone else for the problems that I might create by ME voluntarily walking into an establishment that's sole purpose was to serve a substance that was going to impair my thinking abilities. To blame anyone else other than the person that did this willingly is irresponsible. Furthermore, to take it to the level of destroying someone's life or livelihood other than said person is disgusting.

-end rant, flame away

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