The owner of the Edmonton bar that two men attended before dying outside in the cold in 2017 and 2018 told a fatality inquiry Thursday that he thinks about the deaths all the time.
“You never forget about it,” Jesse Kupina said. “I think it lives in your subconscious forever.”
The week-long fatality inquiry is looking into the circumstances leading up to the deaths of 18-year-old Tyler Emes and 20-year-old Mohamed Munyeabdi. Emes, a university student, was found dead outside the Ranch Roadhouse in the snow on Nov. 19, 2017.
Munyeabdi was found dead and partially frozen under a car near Calgary Trail and 63 Avenue on Nov. 18, 2018, after leaving the bar.
Fatality inquiries do not assign blame. A judge hears evidence and then presents a report which can make recommendations intended to prevent similar deaths.
Kupina became the owner of the Ranch in 2006. He said he had Pro Serve training, was on the safety council for the hospitality industry since 2020 and helped start the Best Bar None program, which recognizes venues that make extra effort to keep patrons safe.
Kupina told the inquiry that the Ranch had safety measures in place and said it’s hard to monitor patrons for intoxication when they’ve been pre-drinking.
“I feel like we did everything we could at that time,” he said.
The Ranch’s policy was to not allow coats due to safety concerns, Kupina said, but coat check was available for $2 (in 2017 and 2018) and cover was $6. If a patron had too much to drink, policy required staff to remove them and make sure they had a safe ride home, he said.
“That might be getting them into a cab, leaving them with a sober and responsible friend,” Kupina told the inquiry.
“We’d often pay for taxis” if it was thought a person was having a “tougher time,” he added.
The Ranch staff followed Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis’ policy to prevent over-serving, he said.
“We would have been in alignment of not serving a patron more than two ounces after 1 a.m.”
There wasn’t a specific area for patrons who were intoxicated but there was a heated area out front in 2017 and 2018, Kupina said.
Staff would call EMS if someone passed out and police were called if someone was loitering or refused to leave the warming area at the end of the night, he explained.
Kupina said that, to his knowledge, there wasn’t an incident report regarding Munyeabdi being asked to leave.
On Monday, Dr. Cecilia Wu, a forensic pathologist, told the inquiry that Munyeabdi was wearing jeans but had no shirt on when he was found, which she explained is not unusual for someone with hypothermia as they often remove clothes. It was about -18 C the night he died, the inquiry heard.
When he was found, Mynyeabdi was intoxicated, the inquiry heard, with a blood alcohol level of 2.44 g/L, three times the legal limit.
Dr. Bernard Bannach, a forensic pathologist, said it was determined that Emes died due to hypothermia. The temperature that night was slightly below zero, the inquiry heard.
It was also determined that Emes was intoxicated. His blood alcohol level was 2.1 g/L, which is two-and-a-half times over the legal limit. In that state, Bannach said a person would likely be confused, lack awareness of their surroundings and lack coordination.
When asked if the Ranch changed any policies following Emes’ death, Kupina replied: “Not to my knowledge.”
When asked if the Ranch changed any policies following Munyeabdi’s death, he replied: “There wasn’t a chance to change policy.”
The Ranch Roadhouse permanently closed on June 8, 2019, and was replaced by Midway Music Hall. Kupina is part owner of Midway and Live Nation is majority owner.
Kupina said the Midway has written policies on how to deal with intoxicated patrons that include calling a taxi or ride share like Uber for them and making sure they have a safe way home.
He added that for a time, Midway staff used a truck to follow people who left the bar intoxicated, refused help and wandered off, to make sure they were safe.
That practice stopped when Midway transitioned to a music venue where every event is ticketed.
Midway also has a room designed for intoxicated patrons who need it, Kupina said. There’s even a policy to have snacks and water for intoxicated people.
“We were very passionate about this as a team,” he said.
“It was added by virtue of not having a repeat of what happened.”
Kupina said the Midway’s policies are more robust than the Ranch, but that the Ranch followed best practices.
When asked for his recommendations, the bar owner said education on pre-drinking could be helpful and it’s challenging to monitor someone’s alcohol consumption when they’ve been drinking before coming to the bar.
He added that venues providing free coat check could be “something to consider.”