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South Park family to get $15.6 million in fatal drunken-driving case

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 5:24 p.m.

A South Park family accepted a $15.6 million settlement offer stemming from a crash in which a drunken driver killed a 7-year-old girl and unborn baby, but the family's attorney said on Tuesday a “void will be there forever.”

Insurers for the South Side restaurant Hofbrauhaus and Travis Isiminger, 25, formerly of Greene County, agreed to pay the money, said Downtown attorney John P. Goodrich, who represents Nicole and Mark Cleland of South Park.

Lexa Cleland, 7, died instantly on Dec. 4, 2010, when her mother's Toyota Camry was struck by a Ford Mustang driven by Isiminger.

Nicole Cleland, who was pregnant at the time, suffered severe injuries, including a broken pelvis, and had a miscarriage. Cleland, 40, continues to use a cane and cannot work.

“No amount of money will replace the love of a daughter,” Goodrich said. “The money will help their family and be a legacy to Lexa, but the void will be there forever.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Ronald W. Folino must approve the proposed settlement, Goodrich said. That could happen within days, he said. Folino did not return a call.

Isiminger drank at least six liters of beer and multiple shots of liquor before vomiting on a table, leaving the restaurant and getting into his car, Goodrich said. He was driving 67 mph in a 25-mph construction zone on East Carson Street when he slammed into the Clelands' car. His blood-alcohol content measured at 0.219 percent an hour after the crash, almost three times the legal limit.

Isiminger pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.

In addition to the financial settlement, Goodrich said Hofbrauhaus agreed to issue a public apology and change its policies to try to prevent patrons from driving after becoming intoxicated at the restaurant.

Hofbrauhaus and its Downtown attorney, David McQuiston, did not return messages.

It's not clear how the settlement compares to ones in other liquor liability — or “dram shop” — cases. Pennsylvania lawyers advertising their successes in such cases generally cite damage awards ranging from $100,000 to $7.5 million. The Superior Court in 2005 upheld a reduced jury verdict of $37.5 million in a Philadelphia case.

Staff writer Brian Bowling contributed to this report. Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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