The then co-owner of the Buckhorn Bar in Laramie was high on methamphetamine when he drove a truck head-on into another vehicle, killing himself and a Casper man in the oncoming car, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the man’s family. The lawsuit, filed February in Natrona County District Court, alleges that 69-year-old Michael Hopkins — the bar’s longtime co-owner — used the stimulant through the night of April 26 and into the next day before getting behind the wheel of his brother’s truck.
The truck on the morning of April 27 crossed the center line of Wyoming Highway 487 near Medicine Bow, where it collided head-on with a Subaru driven by Jonathan Schmidt, 57. He died at the scene. Jeaneece Schmidt, 56, his wife, was hospitalized with injuries that the Wyoming Highway Patrol did not initially reveal. A 9-year-old who had been riding in the pickup was also hospitalized. The truck was engulfed in flames. A tire from the Subaru driven by Jonathan Schmidt was found more than 30 feet from the car, which was itself forced from the road.
Joe Hageman, the attorney handling a separate matter concerning administration of Hopkins’ estate, said Friday morning that an insurance provider would hire counsel to represent Hopkins’ estate in the wrongful death case. He said, though, that he did not know the name of the lawyer that would handle the litigation. He declined to otherwise comment for this story.
No lawyer has yet indicated in court filings intent to represent Hopkins’ estate or his brother, who owned the truck and is named as a defendant to the lawsuit.
In the February filing, plaintiff’s attorneys Todd Ingram and Grant Lawson state Hopkins was entirely within the oncoming lane and did not touch the brakes before the collision. They write that Jeaneece Schmidt suffered multiple brain hemorrhages and a traumatic contusion as well as a lacerated spleen and facial fractures. She was taken by helicopter to Casper for medical treatment and, as a result of the brain injuries, cannot remember the morning, according to the lawsuit.
A coroner’s investigation found that Hopkins’ blood had high levels of methamphetamine and amphetamine at the time of the wreck, according to the lawsuit and a copy of the toxicology report. The highway patrol investigation ultimately determined that the crash was caused by Hopkins driving while fatigued and under the influence, the filing states.
The lawsuit also alleges that Hopkins’ brother — Gary Hopkins, the truck’s owner and the bar’s co-owner — is culpable for the death because he should have known that Michael Hopkins would put people at risk by driving the truck. Gary Hopkins lent him the truck anyway, according to the lawsuit.
When reached by phone early Friday evening, Lawson, the Casper lawyer who represents Schmidt, along with Ingram, said that the case highlights the dangers of driving under the influence. Lawson noted that Schmidt was among dozens of people who die every year as the result of impaired driving.
“It’s not worth taking lives or putting others’ lives at risk,” Lawson said. “You can destroy worlds.”
The filing does not name a specific dollar figure sought in the case, but asks for compensation for Jeaneece Schmidt’s injuries, as well as to Jonathan Schmidt’s surviving relatives to compensate for his death.
The Buckhorn, which is among Wyoming’s most famous bars, bills itself as the oldest standing bar in Laramie and cites an opening date of 1900. One of the establishment’s claims to fame is a bullet hole above the bar, which, legend holds, was fired toward a bartender from the barrel of a jealous husband’s gun.
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