LINCOLN — Four times convicted of drunken driving, Brian Kucera seemed a long shot for a liquor license.
But that's just what the 48-year-old Cedar Bluffs, Neb., man got Thursday from the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
The three commissioners gave unanimous approval in a case the chairman called “unique in our history.” Kucera obtained the license to run Red Zone Bar and Grill in Colon, a village of 110 people about 30 miles west of Omaha.
“We're going to keep our eye on your business,” said Commissioner Robert Batt of Omaha, a five-year member who serves as chairman.
The applicant cited two factors that helped overcome his DUI history.
For starters, he last wore handcuffs 10 years ago. And at the request of the commission, he underwent a psychological evaluation that concluded that he has a “low probability of substance dependency disorder.”
Advocacy organizations that work to reduce drunken driving and underage drinking did not attend the hearing. When contacted afterward, they were reluctant to second-guess the commission.
“They did request the evaluation and from what they found, it sounds like he's a responsible candidate,' said Andrea Frazier, project specialist with MADD Nebraska.
The commission doesn't keep statistics on the number of liquor license holders with alcohol offenses in their past, said Hobert Rupe, executive director of the agency. But he could not recall an applicant with a history as extensive as Kucera's.
Saunders County Sheriff Kevin Stukenholtz, whose office provides law enforcement for Colon, said he was aware of no problems stemming from the bar and grill in the several months since Kucera bought it. The business has been selling liquor with a temporary license.
The sheriff did not oppose the license application. Kucera also submitted a letter of support signed by all members of the Colon Village Board.
Nonetheless, his application didn't sail through unhindered, Batt said.
When he originally applied, Kucera was flagged for failing to disclose all his past legal problems. From 1985 to 2003, he was accused of drunken driving five times and convicted four times. He also was convicted of reckless driving and operating a vehicle with a suspended license.
During questioning Thursday, Kucera said he could not recall the blood-alcohol readings from his arrests. None involved injuries to others, he said.
He attributed his problem drinking to “hanging around the wrong crowd.”
Batt asked what put a stop to the string of DUIs.
“I'll say I grew up,” Kucera replied.
He said he still drinks modest amounts of alcohol from time to time.
He told commissioners he is a farmer who bought and remodeled the restaurant-bar to keep a gathering place open in Colon. He employs five people, including a manager who oversees day-to-day operations. He won't allow employees to drink on the clock, and he does not plan to tend bar himself.
Batt said without the favorable alcohol evaluation, he would have voted to deny the application. But given Kucera's clean record over the past decade, Batt was willing to give him a chance.
The commission also required Kucera to have his employees undergo alcohol server training. And if he commits an alcohol-related offense within the next two years, the license will be revoked.
“Zero tolerance,” Batt said. “And I will remember that.”
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