GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A drunk driver on a rural northern Kent County road ran a stop sign killing a 58-year father of five, grandfather of 17 who was raising two young adopted boys. The intoxicated driver, Michael Ray Hoogewing, is now serving a six to 20-year sentence.
“He made you feel like you were family whether you were family or not,” said Cliff’s wife, Brenda Cliff.
David Cliff left his Greenville home before 6 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2016 heading to work and driving his 2003 Grand Am south on Lincoln Lake Road. A 2006 Saab traveling west on 6 Mile Road failed to yield to a stop sign.
“How many times did he have close calls that were not reported?” said Dustin Johnson, David Cliff’s son. “He could have blown that stop sign 100 times just not knowing it was there even though he lived with two or three miles of the area.”
Police would determine that 32-year-old Hoogewind was driving the Saab and his blood alcohol content (BAC) was .23 — nearly triple Michigan’s legal limit of .08.
“If it was the first time, it would be easier to take, but it wasn’t,” Brenda Cliff said.
State records show Hoogewind was convicted of drunken driving in 2011. After that, a breathalyzer installed in his vehicle detected a high BAC three times that year. The breathalyzer was removed from his car in 2013.
“I don’t see a whole lot of bad in him, I think it was just bad choices,” Johnson said.
Hoogewind would plead no contest to drunk driving causing death and then he would be sentenced to six to 20 years in prison.
“Six years is an awful long time to sit and think about what you did,” Brenda Cliff said.
After raising his own children, he and his wife Brenda adopted two boys who needed a home.
“He truly was a very good man,” Brenda said. “But we had our dreams.”
His wife says she does not hate the man who killed her husband.
“What my two sons, younger sons — the 7- and 8-year-old — keep saying is I hope Michael doesn’t do this again, I hope he doesn’t hurt another family and make them go through what we had to go through,” she said.
MI LAW: BARS CAN BE RESPONSIBLE FOR OVER-SERVING
The family has filed a lawsuit against both Hoogeland and the tavern that served him, Riverbend Bar and Grill in Ada Township. They say the bar should have stopped serving him when he was visibly drunk.
“The hard part is that term ‘visibly,’” said Curt Benson, distinguished professor emeritus at Cooley Law School.
Michigan has laws that say that it’s against the law for a bar to over-serve alcohol, and that the establishments can be held responsible. But proving responsibility to a jury can be a challenge.
“I can tell you it’s not about the monetary issue, it’s about the bar learning,” said Johnson. “If you’re serving more than a drink an hour and you start compounding these things from say 5 p.m. until late in the evening, nothing good can realistically come from this.”
The bar is Riverbend Bar, formerly known as “the Dirty Shame.” 24 Hour News 8 went to the bar and grill in Ada Township and left phone messages, but the bar has not responded.
“If it’s the last bar he was served in and if they served him while he was visibly intoxicated, then the bar can be liable for serving him and the injuries that flow from that decision to serve him,” Benson said.
The idea that bars can be liable for over-serving predates Prohibition and compels bars to have procedures to keep from giving booze to those are visibly drunk. Benson says that people have different tolerances for alcohol.
“A lot of hardcore drinkers they might appear to be perfectly normal even though after the accident, you find out — my goodness, they were a 0.22,” Benson said.
Looking at recent law, it is hard to find examples of where the lawsuits were successful, but many settle before going to a jury.
“This is the Michigan Legislature who says ‘you know what? We will hold bars and taverns responsible if they serve a visibly intoxicated person.’ When a jury gets the proper instruction, a jury will do the right thing in my experience,” Benson said. “Then you’ve got the kind of ordinary problem with the jury who’s going ‘well, you know, why are we blaming the bar when this guy was responsible?’”
Benson said bars that have train their employees to avoid over-serving have a built-in defense. He says bars are also aided by the fact that juries tend to believe that only the person who did the drinking is ultimately responsible.