Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely baby daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
It took 364 days, but tonight, the owner of Franklin’s Buckhorn Inn will finally appear before city of Franklin officials to answer questions. The Franklin Common Council’s License Committee will interrogate Christopher Matecki about what happened on December 25, 2007 at Buckhorn.
Last Christmas day, 49-year old Eddie Lynn Keck, according to information he gave to police, drank six beers and three shots before leaving the Buckhorn. Keck got into a vehicle and struck and killed Gary and Barbara Kitchen of West Allis. The Kitchen’s were standing outside their truck on S. 35th Street in Franklin after visiting friends when they were hit. Keck drove away, telling police later he thought he hit a mailbox.
Keck was charged with two counts each of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and hit-and-run causing death. He entered a plea of guilty on the two homicide charges and was later sentenced to 36 years in prison.
What shocked, stunned, and outraged so many, and not just here in Franklin, was the inaction on the part of Franklin City Hall. Surely this horrific tragedy would spur the mayor and aldermen to take the only action they could: strip the Buckhorn’s license. Instead, it sounded like they all got together behind closed doors and rehearsed their lines ever so carefully. Early in January, every alderman who made a statement cautioned that “due process” needed to take place. Very early in 2008, city officials opened themselves up to criticism for mishandling the entire situation, a claim that would hound them throughout the year.
FranklinNOW blogger Janet Evans summarized a Franklin Common Council meeting in January where two citizens stepped forward to address aldermen about the Buckhorn fatal hit-and-run controversy.
From Janet’s blog:
“Orville Seymer spoke first and told the Council he lives just around the corner from where the incident occurred and has family and friends who have been involved in accidents and death related to drunk drivers. He said, ‘I am opposed to taking the liquor license away from the Buckhorn because that simply will not solve the problem. In my opinion, what will solve the problem is tavern owners and bar tenders who take more responsibility for their actions. In other words, they simply cannot refill a patron glass just because it is empty and they have money laying on the bar.
I am willing to go with any person who is willing to go with me and speak to every bar owner along 27th St. and exert a little peer pressure on them in a nice way so that they understand the consequences of these senseless deaths.’
Shari Hanneman spoke and said she disagrees with Orville Seymer. This also happened in her neighborhood. She is a Mother Against Drunk Driving. She believes the Buckhorn's license should be revoked. She said the employees admitted that Eddie Lynn Keck had repeatedly been over served. The Buckhorn should lose the privilege of having a license. “
Hanneman, along with her Citizens For a Safe Wisconsin colleague Sandy Maher-Johnson did extensive research on one of the Wisconsin statutes that applies to this case. Hanneman referred to the statute in her testimony before the Common Council. Hanneman gave me permission to re-print her testimony:
“The tragic accident of Christmas night occurred in my neighborhood. We heard the commotion and hoped that someone had simply burned their Christmas dinner. Unfortunately two people died for no reason. I am heartbroken and I am really angry that this happened and that it happened in my neighborhood. This incident is a black mark on the soul of this community.
I’m sure you have all read the criminal complaint. I am sure you are as shocked as I am that the bartender at the Buckhorn Tavern discerned that the alleged killer was already “intoxicated at that time” when he continued to serve him beer and shots. The bartender also discerned that when the defendant left the establishment, his “ability to operate a vehicle was materially impaired because of consumption of an alcoholic beverage.” There is no indication that any employee of the Buckhorn made any concerted effort to keep the defendant from driving away. It was “assumed” that he would sleep it off as he had done in the past. This indicates that employees of the Buckhorn Inn knowingly and repeatedly over-serve intoxicated customers. This would seem to satisfy Wisconsin Statute 125.12, paragraph 2, item #3 which lists selling or giving away alcohol beverages to known habitual drunkards as grounds for license revocation.
I will say that if the criminal complaint is indeed truthful and reliable, I believe The Buckhorn Inn to be a very serious threat to our public safety. In my opinion, a business that is that cavalier about the responsibilities that come with the privilege of holding a liquor license has no business doing business in my neighborhood. I want that liquor license revoked! I understand the complicated legal process that you are charged with. I don’t like it but I understand it.
I am a Mother Against Drunk Driving.’ One of the core values of that organization is Leadership- As the acknowledged leaders in the fight against drunk driving and underage drinking, we have the courage to set high standards of responsibility for ourselves and others, the will to work tirelessly for change, and the proven ability to achieve excellent results.
I will argue that we are a City of great Leadership – We are not afraid to stand up to the state, push for change, and do what is right. YOU each must have the courage to set high standards of responsibility for those that you grant a liquor license. YOU need to set the standard that anything less will not be tolerated by our people.”
In February, the Franklin Common Council voted to retain Roger C. Pyzyk, a private practice attorney who also is the Greenfield city attorney, as a special prosecutor to see if Franklin officials could take action against the tavern.
My first thought was, don’t we have our own City Attorney to make these kinds of decisions?
But the Franklin City Attorney is also the legal counsel to the members of the Franklin Common Council who, in this case, are the judges. So there’s an obvious conflict of interest.
The resolution adopted by the Franklin Common Council called for spending up to $5000 on the special prosecutor. The appropriation will come out of the City Attorney’s budget.
On July 29th, WTMJ-TV Channel 4’s John Mercure did a special report on Wisconsin law pertaining to over-serving. Mercure reported on the case of a young man who went out drinking on the eve of his 21st birthday with friends to the Slammer bar in Waupun. He drank 18 shots of liquor in an hour before the bartender stopped serving him. His friends (some friends) took him home, where he died later.
Mercure interviewed the Fond du Lac County District Attorney on camera who said he felt he couldn’t, based on current Wisconsin law, prosecute the bartender. Mercure reported that it takes about an hour for the young man in the story to have become intoxicated and that the bartender stopped serving while the customer did not appear to be drunk.
The Fond du Lac County DA also said he knows of no case in the state of Wisconsin of a bar being prosecuted and found guilty of over-serving.
In July, I wrote:
“It’s clear the Buckhorn over-served and that Keck, who has since entered a plea of guilty on two counts of homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle, will be going to prison. The Buckhorn should have come up for a review of its license by city of Franklin officials a long time ago. The excuse that the city has to wait while the criminal justice system plays out is a copout. Franklin has a responsibility to ensure the public safety of its boundaries. I submit the Buckhorn license should have been stripped.”
The community was still waiting in August when I wrote:
“One can certainly understand the anger and frustration at the slow-moving wheels of justice in this case. There’s an outcry as to why the Franklin Common Council isn’t taking any action on the one area it has leverage in this controversy: Buckhorn’s license. Like it or not, there’s a specific process that is being followed.
I spoke with Franklin City Attorney Jesse Wesolowski to get some answers. You’ll recall that several months ago, Franklin named Greenfield City Attorney Roger Pyzyk as the special prosecutor in this matter. Pyzyk’s responsibility is to examine the case and make a recommendation. His recommendation could be to strip the license, plea bargain, take action against the bartenders and/or the establishment, or do nothing.
Pyzyk’s recommendation will be submitted to the Franklin Common Council’s License Committee comprised of Aldermen Tim Solomon, Steve Taylor, and Kristen Wilhelm. Solomon years ago was instrumental in changing the city’s licensing procedure that now incorporates intensive reviews by building inspectors and comprehensive reports submitted by Franklin Police.
The License Committee can then conduct a hearing before being required to prepare a written report with its recommendation to present to the full Common Council. Then the Common Council can convene and take action.”
That, again, like it or not, is the process. And that's where we stand right now with a License Committee meeting on this matter scheduled at City Hall at 6:00 tonight. If you have concerns, you are urged to attend.
The criminal complaint in the case is damning.
Buckhorn is culpable in the deaths of two innocent people. And I will repeat a question I posed earlier this year:
If not this incident, Franklin aldermen, then explain to me what the Buckhorn or any other Franklin bar would have to do in order to lose its license?
THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2008
9) BUCKHORN LIVES TO SERVE ANOTHER DAY, AND ANOTHER, AND ANOTHER...
10) MAJOR OPENINGS AT THE SHOPPES AT WYNDHAM VILLAGE