Southside Grill is being investigated for providing alcohol to a minor who died following an April accident near Dickens.
Before he died, 19-year-old Alfonso Adrian Maldonado of Estherville told a paramedic in the back of an ambulance that he and his friend, who also died in the accident, were at a strip club in Spencer and had been drinking, according to a search warrant affidavit.
The sheriff’s office has since charged Southside Grill employee Jacoba Knight with serving alcohol to Maldonado without exercising reasonable care to determine whether he was under the legal age, among other charges.
Additional charges as a result of the investigation are pending, according to the sheriff’s office.
The search warrant requests security cameras, surveillance footage, receipts or other information identifying or containing payment information for Maldonado and an employee list and contact information for those who worked any time from 5 p.m. Friday, April 26, to 12:15 a.m. Saturday, April 27.
Both Maldonado and a passenger in the car he was driving, 21-year-old Tephonte Alan Smith, 21, died as a result of an accident April 26 shortly before midnight near the 280th Avenue and 350th Street intersection.
“The items listed are relevant and necessary as part of an investigation into providing alcohol to an underage person resulting in death,” Clay County Sheriff’s Deputy Tyler Heck wrote in his warrant request.
In an interview with the Signal on Tuesday, Southside Grill owner Chris Burg acknowledged that Maldonado and Smith were at his bar, but Maldonado snuck in and was served unknowingly. He called the situation “unfortunate.”
“I feel sorry for the friends and the families that are involved,” Burg said. “Ultimately, they are paying the ultimate price for (Maldonado’s and Smith’s) poor decisions.”
The ongoing investigation into Burg’s business was referenced but not discussed in detail at the Spencer City Council meeting on Monday.
The council voted to deny Southside Grill’s liquor license renewal, citing evidence that minors had been served alcohol, intoxicated people had been served alcohol and that dancers were not properly covering their breasts per Iowa Code.
Burg can appeal the council’s decision to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. Until that appeals process is completed, he can continue to serve alcoholic beverages at his establishment.
Investigation leads to Southside Grill
Heck explains in the search warrant affidavit filed in Third District Judicial Court in Clay County what happened April 26 and how Southside Grill became a focal point of the investigation.
At 11:47 p.m. on Friday, April 26, Heck responded to a crash at 280th Avenue and 350th Street in near Dickens in rural Clay County. Dispatchers informed him that the caller said the vehicle had struck a utility telephone pole and that the vehicle was cut in two.
When Heck arrived, he went to the vehicle’s driver seat. The driver, later identified as Alfonso Adrian Maldonado of Estherville.
Heck wrote in the warrant application that Maldonado was unconscious but breathing. He stated that “due to the potential hazard of the electricity lines above and the utility pole broke in half, and was just resting on the car, I attempted to wake Maldonado with my voice until the Fire Department was on scene and could say it would be safe to touch the vehicle.”
Heck indicated he walked up to the driver’s door, which had its window partly down. The windshield was caved on the driver’s side. Heck stated he smelled a strong ordor of alcohol coming from the vehicle.
While Heck was yelling in an attempt to wake Maldonado, he was also shining his flashlight around the scene. He noticed two beer bottles lying on the grass behind the front half of the vehicle.
“After a short time,” Heck wrote, “Maldonado did become responsive and started talking to me.”
Maldonado told Heck that his name was Alfonso. Heck told him that he had to keep still until the ambulance arrived.
Maldonado repeatedly asked Heck if he had killed anybody. Heck wrote that he would not answer.
Heck asked Maldonado how many people were in the car with him. Maldonado said it was only him. Heck told Maldonado that his friend was in the passenger seat. He asked a second time if anyone else was in the car.
And again, Maldonado said it was only him.
“I asked him if he had been drinking tonight and he said yes, and he knew he should have not been driving,” Heck stated.
That’s when Spencer Ambulance arrived and began caring for Maldonado. Heck helped get Maldonado onto a backboard.
“I could smell a strong odor of alcohol coming from him,” Heck wrote.
At that point, Maldonado was fading in and out of consciousness. He was loaded into the ambulance.
Paramedics pronounced Smith, the owner of the car, dead at the scene.
Just after 1 a.m., Heck learned Maldonado had died at Spencer Hospital. The next morning, the medical examiner told Heck that Maldonado’s blood alcohol content was .258, more than three times the legal limit.
Man who reported accident told deputy Burg called him
Heck returned to work at 6 p.m. on April 27. He had a message to return a phone call from a member of the Dickens Fire Department. The accident had occurred outside the man’s residence.
The man and his adult son were first on scene and reported the accident.
Heck stated that the firefighter, in his message, said he received a phone call from Burg.
According to the affidavit, Burg had questions about the details of the accident. The firefighter told Heck he did not answer Burg’s questions, but added that Burg told him he was nervous because Maldonado and Smith had been at Southside Grill earlier that night.
The firefighter stated his phone call ended when he wouldn’t answer Burg’s questions.
Burg said in his interview with the Signal that he did call the man to check on what happened. He had heard there was an accident outside the man’s house.
“I was out of town and he’s a personal friend of mine,” Burg said.
After receiving the message from the Dickens firefighter, Heck went to Spencer Hospital and spoke about the accident with a Spencer Ambulance paramedic who had been on scene.
The paramedic stated that while in the back of the ambulance, he asked Maldonado if he had used drugs or had consumed alcohol.
Maldonado answered yes to both.
Maldonado told the paramedic that he and Smith were headed to Estherville. Maldonado continued to speak to the paramedic, stating “they were at the strip club and were headed home to get more singles because he needed to pay his girls,” Heck wrote in the warrant application.
Heck asked Spencer Hospital nurses if they had found any other identification on Maldonado or if they had located a fake ID. Staff said they had not.
Burg shares his side
Burg said customers would not be allowed to leave and retrieve payment as Maldonado reportedly described.
“I asked (the firefighter who first responded) which way the car was going because if they were leaving my place, why would they be going that way (on 350th Ave.)?” Burg said.
Burg said a version of the story he heard from one of his employees differs from what Maldonado shared with the paramedic.
“He was related to one of the dancers,” Burg said. “And the dancer told him not to leave and go to her house, which was two blocks away. He said he was going back home to his kids is what I was told.”
Burg claimed that Smith had not been served at Southside.
“There’s questions why he wasn’t driving,” he said.
Maldonado had been served, Burg said, but not knowingly.
“He snuck into the bar when my bouncer was busy dealing with another situation,” he said.
Deputy files search warrant application
In his warrant affidavit, Heck explained how he believed Southside Grill was the establishment Maldonado referred to when he spoke to the paramedic in the ambulance.
Heck stated that he was aware that Southside Grill bills itself as a strip club “and that there are no other strip clubs located in Spencer or Clay County, Iowa.”
“The location of the accident is consistent with a route that would be used to travel from Spencer to Estherville, Iowa,” he continued. “Maldonado’s direction of travel was away from Spencer.”
The investigation is ongoing. Knight currently is the only person facing charges. The sheriff’s office has stated that additional charges are pending.
Burg said he and his employees have been cooperative with law enforcement throughout the investigation process.
“I stated (at the city council meeting) I had no problem working with them,” he said. “All my entertainers and bartenders, they’ve been open and honest.”
City receives warrant; Burg files lawsuit
The City of Spencer, Burg said, obtained a search warrant for the surveillance on Friday.
Burg claims to have body cam footage from Deputy Heck stating on camera that city officials, specifically City Attorney Don Hemphill, had access to the camera footage before receiving the warrant.
Hemphill, Burg said, denies this.
On Tuesday, Burg filed a lawsuit against the City of Spencer seeking $200,000 or more in compensatory damages.
“I’m probably going to sue for about $10 million,” Burg said.
He said the city council was in the wrong to deny his liquor license approval. He took issue with how the council voted before Burg could defend himself. He had to wait until the public comment period at the end of the meeting.
“I’ve never been cited for underage drinking,” said Burg, who also is the owner of Liberty Lanes bowling alley in Spencer. “I’ve never been cited for breaking the law for nudity. I’ve never been cited for over-pouring. And in the state of Iowa, over-pouring is a judgment.”
Burg cited stress, heartache, harassment, biased decisions and “irreparable damages to my name and businesses” as reasons for the lawsuit.
This story has been updated to remove the name of the man who responded first to the scene and was later called by Burg.