Three lawsuits have now been filed against the Dave & Buster’s restaurant in Tucson in connection with a wrong-way drunk driving crash last year which injured several people, killed a Sierra Vista boy, and led to first-degree murder charges against the boy’s stepfather.
The lawsuits allege Dave & Buster’s breached its duty to the public by overserving alcohol to Clifford James Johnson on June 18, 2021 during a hours-long birthday celebration with his wife and six children in their blended family. Video and restaurant receipts show Johnson consumed several strong alcoholic drinks before driving away toward Sierra Vista with three of the children in his pickup.
Johnson, who was a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, ended up in the wrong lane on State Route 90 south of Benson where he drove into an oncoming vehicle. He tested at a blood alcohol concentration of .237 after the accident and has been charged with 26 felonies in connection with his actions.
Lance Aguirre, Johnson’s nine-year-old stepson, died at the scene. Two of Johnson’s children suffered severe injuries and the driver of the other vehicle was left with permanent injuries.
The death of Lance Aguirre led to the first lawsuit being filed last August by attorney Joel Borowiec on behalf of David Aguirre, the boy’s father. David Aguirre’s lawsuit names Clifford Johnson as well as various Dave & Buster’s corporate entities as defendants. That case was filed in Cochise County Superior Court but was recently transferred to Pima County at the request of attorneys for Dave & Buster’s.
In the Aguirre lawsuit, Dave & Buster’s also recently filed a Notice of 3rd Party Fault naming Clifford Johnson’s wife Mindy as being “at fault for causing and/or significantly contributing to the subject incident.” Mindy Johnson, who was the mother of Lance Aguirre, told a DPS investigator she knew her husband should not have been driving but did not notify police that he had left the restaurant with three of the children.
The second lawsuit filed in connection with the deadly crash was filed last September by attorney Perry Hicks on behalf of Mindy Johnson. It names Dave & Buster’s Inc., Dave & Buster’s Management Corporation, and Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc. as defendants but does not name her husband.
The Mindy Johnson lawsuit is currently assigned to a Cochise County judge but Dave & Buster’s has already filed a change of venue motion to move the case to Pima County. And it is in Pima County where the third lawsuit was recently filed by Stella Johnson.
Court records show Stella Johnson is the mother of the two other children riding in the pickup driven by Clifford Johnson, her ex-husband and the kids’ father. She too is suing Clifford Johnson as well as the various Dave & Buster’s corporations due to the fact both children were severely injured in the crash, including a preschool-aged girl who suffered fractures to both legs.
Attorney Thomas Bayham notes in the Stella Johnson lawsuit that while Clifford Johnson’s “negligence and willful and wanton behavior” were the direct and proximate cause of the collision, he was “severely and clearly impaired by the effects of alcohol consumption.”
And that, according to the latest lawsuit, is the responsibility of Dave & Buster’s, as one or more restaurant employees allegedly engaged in gross negligence by serving alcohol “to an obviously intoxicated” Clifford Johnson before he got into his vehicle with three children and drove away.
Dave & Buster’s “negligently hired and failed to adequately train its employees and bartenders in the care, custody, control and adequate security provisions necessary when serving alcohol to patrons of Dave & Buster’s” at the Tucson location, the Stella Johnson lawsuit states, adding that restaurant’s staff had a responsibility to prevent the sale of alcohol “to individuals who were visibly and obviously intoxicated, so as to avoid injury to third parties by their patrons.”
A fourth lawsuit is expected to be filed by mid-June by attorney Leighton Rockafellow on behalf of Michell East and her infant son who were in the vehicle Clifford Johnson drove into. Although the boy did not suffer any serious injuries, East suffered fractures in both feet and could not walk for several weeks. She also broke her right elbow.
However, the lawsuits will likely move slowly through the court until Clifford Johnson’s criminal case is resolved, so as to not impact his due process rights. He is slated for a jury trial later this year.