GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - As state and local authorities look into the second falling death in a month at a popular downtown venue, a city commissioner says local establishments should come up with a set of guidelines to protect their patrons.
The state Liquor Control Commission is looking into the death of Kevin O'Brien at The B.O.B. early Sunday. A spokesperson declined to provide further information about the investigation.
O'Brien, 36, of Wyoming was coming down the interior stairwell on the northwest side of The B.O.B. around 1:45 a.m. Sunday. He fell four stories, was hospitalized in critical condition and died Monday, according to the Grand Rapids Police Department.
The stairwell from which O'Brien fell is the same on from which 21-year-old Zachary Bunting fell on April 14. He was killed. And in 2009, 21-year-old Tylor Usher died after a fall from the stairway.
24 Hour News 8's attempts Monday to get a comment from B.O.B. owner Greg Gilmore were unsuccessful. But his father John Gilmore, founder and Chairman of the board of the Gilmore Collection, spoke to 24 Hour News 8 Monday evening on the phone.
"I'm concerned. Extremely concerned," Gilmore said. "It's not only the money, but it's our reputation."
He said The B.O.B. got a bid last week to raise the railing on the stairway where the two most recent incidents happened.
"It's a terrible thing and it's very upsetting, particularly to Greg," Gilmore said. "We try so hard... to do the right thing then something like this happens. ... It wasn't our fault but unfortunately it happened at our place."
Grand Rapids City Commissioners have not hesitated in the past to ask the state to revoke the liquor license of troubled spots. The Margarita Grill, where college football player Jono Krystiniak was beaten to death outside the bar in 2008, agreed to give up their license in 2009. The New Roosevelt Bar on Grandville Avenue SW was also targeted by the commission after 35 incidents, including four shootings and a homicide, occurred outside the bar in a one-year period.
Police admit The B.O.B., which houses several bars and restaurants, takes up a lot of their time, as well.
24 Hour News 8 polled the city commission, but no one is holding The B.O.B. to the same scrutiny so far.
"I think that every case is a case unto itself. You really can't generalize. I don't really want to do that," Third Ward Commissioner James White said.
"This is tragic but this does not seem to be the same type of problem we had at the other establishments you reference." First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski told 24 Hour News 8. "Greg Gilmore and his team have always been responsive, cooperative and even proactive. They have been leaders in this region in regards to their entertainment business and I believe he will do all he can to assure the safety of his customers, employees and vendors."
Tylor Usher's family seems to question the effort of making adjustments at the nightclub.
"It hurts. It's painful. It's painful for the family," said Bill Mills, the attorney for the Usher family.
Usher's family received a $400,000 settlement following his death in 2009, but their ultimate goal wasn't cash.
"Their main goal was to achieve change and it didn't happen and that's the tragedy of it all," said Mills.
The Usher family's attorney said they suggested to corporate officials adding an elevator, raising the rails and putting security staff in the stairwell.
"Those people -- at least the first two, I think -- would have lived and been safe if certain basic environmental changes in that place had occurred," Mills said.
Usher's family says they hope city leaders will now join the effort of putting pressure on The B.O.B. to change.
"Make it the Big Ol' Safe Building instead of The B.O.B. It can be safer," said Mills.
Commissioner White is pushing an idea that he hopes will deal with problems before they become police matters or revocation requests.
"No laws, but just agreed upon guidelines that all of the bars and nightclubs will follow so that people are safe," White said.
His ideas range from better lighting in parking lots to discourage loitering to cutting off liquor sales earlier.
"And then, if someone violates those, we have at least an understanding as to why we need to perhaps move in with some kind of police action," White said.
Investigators from the GRPD Major Case Team, which is working O'Brien's case, say it appears to have been an accident.
There were no reports of fights or arguments in that stairway at the time of O'Brien's fall, but investigators are still looking for witnesses. Police have located some people who saw O'Brien fall past them, but they haven't found anyone who witnessed what lead up to the fall.
Police are also working with city inspectors to make sure everything in that stairway was up to code.
And the GRPD Vice Unit is reviewing any liquor violations for The B.O.B. 24 Hour News 8 found five violations tied to the building going back to 1998. Three involved alcohol sales. The others violations
were for overcrowding and the promotion of an event that violated a city order.
Court records show the family of Tylor Usher sued the owners of The B.O.B. -- 20 Monroe Building Company Limited Partnership -- in 2011.
The family says Usher was celebrating his 21st birthday at Eve, a club on the fourth floor. The lawsuit claims when the club closed for the night, the elevator was not working and an employee instructed the group to go down the stairway in the back of the club. The family says Usher slipped or tripped on the stairs. He later died from his injuries.
A police report tells a different story. Grand Rapids Police spoke with Usher's brother and other friends who say he was jumping from railing to railing when he fell.
After months of negotiations, the family reached a settlement with company. The exact terms are sealed by the court. However, documents show the family was paid $400,000 as part of a settlement. Of that, $92,709.80 was paid to the family's attorney. The rest was split between Usher's parents and brothers.
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