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Bartenders say Duluth man who froze to death not visibly intoxicated

Scott Miner

The late Scott Miner was described Tuesday as a funny, friendly, likeable, even lovable young man who had a lot of problems -- including a serious alcohol problem.

That drinking problem contributed to Miner's death Jan. 25, 2009, and his family has brought a civil lawsuit against the Copasetic Lounge in Duluth for allegedly illegally serving alcohol to their loved one, who they contend was obviously intoxicated when served.

Defense attorney Steven Reyelts told jurors in a St. Louis County courtroom that Miner once required medical help after having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.39 percent, nearly five times the legal limit to drive. But Miner's mother bought her son a drink that night because he seemed fine to her, Reyelts said.

Reyelts seemed to be suggesting that if Miner's own mother couldn't tell he was intoxicated that night, how could the two bartenders who served him the night he died?

That's something jurors might consider in trying to determine whether the Copasetic illegally sold drinks to Miner. It's against Minnesota law for any person to sell or furnish alcohol for the use "of an obviously intoxicated person."

Miner, 22, was at the Copasetic from 7 p.m. that Saturday until 2 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 25. His body was found at 8:57 a.m., lying on the ground of a nearby parking lot. The nighttime temperature was 17 below zero. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be "exposure, with acute alcohol intoxication." His time of death was estimated at 4 a.m.

Both bartenders testified Tuesday that they saw no obvious signs of intoxication from Miner. They said he was playing pull tabs and a video game, was able to complete financial transactions and declined offers to be driven home by a bartender, who said he was concerned because it was bitterly cold and he knew Miner wasn't driving.

But what don't add up are Miner's blood-alcohol concentration at the time of his death and the amount of alcohol the bartenders say they served him.

Paul Schweiger, the Miner family's attorney, told jurors in his opening statement that three medical experts will testify that Miner consumed between 18 and 19 ounces of alcohol. He said there was no evidence that Miner had been drinking elsewhere before arriving at the bar and there is no evidence that he was bringing his own alcohol into the bar or drinking outside the bar.

Yet the two bartenders testified they served Miner only four drinks, making up only between six and seven ounces of alcohol.

Miner's blood-alcohol concentration at the time of his autopsy was nearly three times the legal limit to drive.

Reyelts suggested to jurors in his opening statement that Miner's troubled life of medical problems, chronic drinking and other issues had made him reckless in caring whether he lived or died.

He told jurors that a medical expert performed a "psychological autopsy'' on Miner and will testify that what happened was going to happen that night or "something like this was going to be inevitable."

Schweiger used a video presentation to show jurors the meandering path Miner took outside the bar and adjacent parking lot. As the hypothermia set in and he started to feel warm, Miner started shedding clothing -- his jacket, shoes, a sock. Vomit was found in two locations. A close up photo showed Miner's face.

Schweiger apologized to jurors for showing them the graphic photos, but told them he thought it was important to see how helpless the victim was in his intoxicated state.

Testimony continues this morning.