On the night of August 28 at a Statesboro bar called Rude Rudy’s, the life of Michael Gatto, an 18-year-old Georgia Southern freshman from Forsyth County, was allegedly taken by the hands of Grant James Spencer. Spencer, an off-duty Rude Rudy’s bouncer and a 20-year-old Georgia Southern junior, has been accused of repeatedly beating Gatto in the head and causing his death from skull fractures and other head injuries. Spencer has been changed with felony murder and aggravated battery and is being held without bond.
Since the death of Gatto, the owner of Rude Rudy’s, Jonathan Earl Starkey, has permanently closed the bar, as per a voluntary agreement with the City of Statesboro. The agreement also stated that Starkey would surrender his alcohol license and forfeit his rights to obtain another license from the City of Statesboro.
The death caused the City of Statesboro to increase the occurrences of alcohol compliance checks, including checks for underage drinking, and the number of hearings held on alcohol license compliance issues. The City was already in the process of revamping the alcohol codes for the City, but the process has been extended since Gatto’s death. There has also been discussion locally about better training and education for employees that work in businesses that serve alcohol.
Gatto’s death may also have an impact for all Georgia businesses that serve alcohol. When Gatto’s parents contacted Starkey about helping cover the costs for over $150,000 in medical and funeral bills, they found out that they had very little recourse. The bar had closed and the State of Georgia did not have a requirement for businesses serving alcohol to have liquor liability insurance.
Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-25, Johns Creek) wants to change Georgia law to require the insurance. Dudgeon has been working on a bill for the upcoming session entitled Michael’s Law that would add Georgia to the list of 15 other states that require the insurance.
Some businesses in Georgia already voluntarily carry the insurance to protect themselves and their assets. Many businesses do not, though, including some smaller operations that have stated that the insurance is not affordable. Rep. Dudgeon stated:
“The state is giving them the privilege to sell alcohol which is something the state, by our constitution, regulates and if you’re giving them the privilege and they have to pay a fee for that it seems we can make requirements.”
There will obviously be discussions and debates about adding another cost and layer of government to operating a business in Georgia versus protecting the overall welfare of Georgia citizens.