CORAL SPRINGS, FLA. (WSVN) - Police are investigating after, they said, the Coral Springs restaurant that served the underage driver convicted in a fatal 2013 hit-and-run was busted for serving alcohol to a teen.
A 7News crew accompanied Coral Springs Police in an undercover sting operation at Tijuana Taxi Co., located on the 900 block of North University Drive, Wednesday night. Cameras rolled as an undercover officer confronted a bartender after she sold beer to a 19-year-old undercover informant.
The bartender even looked at the informant’s ID, but the drinking age in Florida is 21. “It’s very upsetting what just happened,” said Coral Springs Police Officer Jason Mulvey, “and they have to be more thorough about what they do.”
Seconds after being confronted, the bartender walked away from 7News’ cameras. “From the management down to the bartenders, anybody that’s serving, they really have to take that time and know the consequences of the implications of what could happen,” said Mulvey.
Sadly, two families know what could happen. On Nov. 16, 2013, police said, 20-year-old Kayla Mendoza had been drinking at Tijuana Taxi before driving the wrong way on the Sawgrass Expressway and then slamming head-on into Maria Catronio and Kaitlyn Ferrante as the two best friends, both 21, headed eastbound. Both victims were killed.
Before getting behind the wheel, Mendoza tweeted, “2 drunk 2 care.” She was later sentenced to 24 years in prison.
“You look at it and say, ‘Jeez, I mean, what could we have done to do something different?” said Gary Catronio, Marisa’s father.
Now, three years later, it appears not much is different. The officers who confronted the bartender at Tijuana Taxi said they routinely check for servers making alcohol available to minors. Wednesday night, they fined nine servers and clerks across the city serving to those who are underage.
The bartender at Tijuana Taxi was not arrested, but she received what’s called a notice to appear. “She made a huge mistake,” said Ashley Speziale, Ferrante’s sister. “Thank God it was just a sting operation and wasn’t more serious, like another death.”
“To violate this and not take the responsibility and the seriousness of what happened that evening, and let this happen in your establishment again, and be caught again for doing this? Inexcusable,” said Gary Catronio.
Speaking on the phone with 7News, a manager at Tijuana Taxi said every staff member has to go through mandatory training sessions called quarterly alcohol updates.
The Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco will decide whether the restaurant will face any fines or worse.
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