Man injured in crash suing SR winery

A Sebastopol man who suffered permanent brain damage in an alcohol-related car crash in 2006 is making a rare bid for a Santa Rosa winery to pay legal damages related to his injuries.

Analy High School graduate Joshua Apodaca is suing Paradise Ridge Winery, claiming employees broke state law by serving alcohol to a 19-year-old who later was behind the wheel of the car that crashed.

California law states that bars, wineries and other licensed alcohol purveyors are not responsible for what intoxicated patrons do once they walk out the door.

Apodaca's lawsuit is based on the exception to this rule, which is a prohibition on serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors.

"I've never heard of that happening," Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners' Association, said of lawsuits that seek to hold wineries accountable for visitors' drinking.

Walter Byck, who co-owns Paradise Ridge, a winery he founded in 1994 with his late wife, said Monday his employees did nothing wrong.

"We've been in business 14 years, and we've never had any problems with serving alcohol because we have strict rules about not serving minors," Byck said.

The lawsuit centers on the events of July 15, 2006, when Apodaca and a former Analy classmate, Sean Bradley, attended a wedding at the Fountaingrove winery for Kevin and Jennifer Tharp.

Before the event, the couple expressed concerns to winery employees about minors consuming alcohol, said Pat Emery, Apodaca's attorney.

Byck said winery records note that concern, which he said was relayed to employees. He said the winery, as usual for special events, also stopped serving alcohol at 9 p.m., roughly four hours before the crash.

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