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Cafe Milano is one of the best-known spots in the District to mingle with the famous. Actor George Clooney spent many nights at the place while filming HBO’s “K Street” last year. Basketball legend Michael Jordan and President Bill Clinton have been frequent guests. And with a star clientele, Cafe Milano and its owner Franco Nuschese make routine appearances in The Washington Post’s gossip column. Greeting the rich and famous seemed an ideal job for Elizabeth Anton, a young college student looking to make a career in fashion. She spent the summer of 2003 as a part-time hostess at the Italian restaurant, where sometimes the socializing would continue after its patrons had departed. Around 2 a.m. on Sept. 7, 2003, Anton left Cafe Milano with an assistant manager. Less than an hour later, her broken body was found on the pavement next to a high-rise apartment building in Arlington, Va. Anton had fallen eight floors from the balcony of the assistant manager’s apartment. “It’s been a year, and I still feel horrible,” says her father, Frank Anton, president of publishing company Hanley-Wood. “It’s still hard to accept, hard to understand.” Anton’s family is suing Cafe Milano for $20 million, claiming managers at the popular Georgetown nightspot served the 20-year-old alcoholic drinks that contributed to her death. The legal drinking age is 21 in the District. “This was not some fluke or unpreventable accident,” says Patrick Regan of D.C.’s Regan, Halperin & Long, who represents the Anton family. The Northern Virginia District Medical Examiner’s office ruled Anton’s death an accident and police closed the case without filing any criminal charges. A toxicology report noted that her blood alcohol level at the time of her death was .13 � over the .08 threshold of intoxication in both the District and Virginia for purposes of driving. Regan says Cafe Milano officials knew that Anton was underage because the University of Arizona student had given her date of birth on the job application she filled out before being hired. “She was an employee,” Regan says. “This is a far cry from the situation that restaurants or bars face when a person comes in with a fake ID.” Four calls to Cafe Milano owner Franco Nuschese were not returned. A woman who answered the phone at the cafe offices and identified herself as Nuschese’s secretary said she passed along the messages to Nuschese. The secretary declined comment, except to say that the restaurant extends its sympathy to Anton’s family. Cafe Milano has until Sept. 30 to file an answer to the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Normally, plaintiffs lawyers say it is difficult to hold bars and restaurants liable for injuries or death suffered by � or inflicted by � intoxicated patrons. They note that the District � like many states � does not have a “dram shop” law allowing people to sue bar owners for serving a visibly intoxicated person alcoholic beverages. However, in 2000, the D.C. Court of Appeals found that establishments that serve alcohol to underage patrons could be held liable. In that particular Court of Appeals case � also litigated by Regan � the owners of the Georgetown bar Winston’s were sued by H. Marshall Jarrett, a Department of Justice official whose 19-year-old son was hit by a car and killed after a night of drinking at the popular college hangout. Regan says the parties involved in the Jarrett case ultimately reached a confidential settlement. The Anton suit, filed in the D.C. federal trial court on Sept. 2, has four counts � negligence, wrongful death, and D.C. and Virginia survival actions. The negligence claim states that by allowing Anton to drink alcohol at the restaurant, Cafe Milano violated D.C.’s Alcohol Beverage Control Act. According to Douglas Fierberg, a plaintiffs lawyer at D.C.’s Bode & Grenier, the Jarrett decision adds legal standing to the Anton family’s case. “This is a solid claim,” says Fierberg, who is not involved in the Anton case. D.C. defense lawyer Thomas Mooers says one likely question will be whether the assistant manager was serving Anton drinks and acting in the scope of his employment at the time. Another possible angle for the defense team would be attacking the claim that the alcohol consumed by Anton caused her to fall off the balcony. “The assistant manager becomes a critical witness because he is the one who could describe her degree of intoxication,” says Mooers, of Mooers & Associates, who is not involved in the Anton case. A SUMMER JOB In June 2003, Anton was having lunch at Cafe Milano with her sister and father. Anton was looking for a part-time job, and her dad suggested she talk to managers at the restaurant. Anton filled out an application that afternoon and was hired on the spot, according to Anton’s parents. At the time, Anton had moved back to her mother’s house in McLean, Va., after spending two years at the University of Arizona. Her mother says Anton was planning to attend Northern Virginia Community College while attempting a move to New York, where her boyfriend and her older sister lived. According to her mother, Anton was interested in the fashion industry and seemed to have a flair for it. Elizabeth’s friends, says Grace Anton, were always commenting on her fashion sense. “It seemed like everyone wanted to do what Elizabeth was doing,” she says. Grace says a part-time job at the restaurant would provide her daughter with some money to spend on the clothes she liked, and it would keep her busy until school started. In the week before her death, Grace says she and her daughter talked about whether she would continue working at the restaurant while taking classes. “She had been told that during the year you could make a lot of money over the weekend in tips,” says Grace, who at the suggestion of her lawyer would not discuss the events surrounding her daughter’s death. Anton’s father, who lives in Georgetown, says he would often drop by Cafe Milano to say hello to his daughter. “She sort of liked the stargazing,” says Anton’s father, noting that his daughter once called him to say she had seen former basketball star Patrick Ewing at the restaurant. On Sept. 6, 2003, Anton worked the evening shift at Cafe Milano. It was a Saturday night. After the restaurant closed at 1 a.m., a handful of employees, including Anton, had drinks in Cafe Milano’s Domingo Room, according to Regan. At about 2 a.m., Anton left with Assistant Manager Pierre Chakra, the complaint states. Regan says the two arrived at Chakra’s Arlington apartment building at about 2:13 a.m. � the time Chakra’s parking card was used at the building’s parking garage. Chakra called 911 at 2:33 a.m. and told the emergency dispatcher that Anton had fallen from his eighth-floor balcony. Dr. Stephen Sheehy of the medical examiner’s office determined that Anton died immediately from blunt trauma to her head and body, according to his Sept. 8, 2003, report. Under the heading “Narrative Description of Circumstances Surrounding Death,” Sheehy wrote: “Decedent was having some drinks with her boyfriend on his 8th floor balcony. She climbed up on the railing to sit with her back against the building (which she had done before) when she screamed and fell to her death on the pavement below. Police are continuing their investigation.” The report states Anton’s death was accidental. There is no mention of Anton drinking alcohol at Cafe Milano in the medical examiner’s report. Arlington County police investigated the incident and interviewed Chakra, according to Regan. Detective John Ritter, a spokesman for the police, declined to release a copy of the police investigation, saying only that the case was closed and no criminal charges were filed. (Though such records can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act, Ritter says notes developed during police investigations in Arlington County � including police reports � are usually exempt.) Regan says he has subpoenaed the police report, but has yet to receive it. Regan says that Chakra was not Anton’s boyfriend, but that their relationship would be explored during discovery. Regan says his own investigation found that Chakra no longer works at Cafe Milano and was about 26 years old at the time of the incident. Chakra could not be located for comment. “Everything’s so sketchy,” says Anton’s father, adding that he was out of town on vacation when he learned of his daughter’s death. “I don’t know what happened.” Regan also says he plans to show that it was common practice for underage employees to drink alcohol at Cafe Milano after closing time. Maria Delaney, director of D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, says her agency never received any notice about Anton’s death and the allegation about underage drinking at Cafe Milano. Delaney adds that Cafe Milano has a clean record going back to 2002 � when the ABRA became its own agency within the D.C. government. She is not aware of any violations prior to that time. In the District, it is a violation of the law for a restaurant or bar to serve anyone liquor � paid for or unpaid for � after 2 a.m. An establishment could also violate its liquor license if it serves drinks after the closing time stated on its license application, but Delaney says those cases are difficult to make. According to Delaney, Cafe Milano’s liquor license application notes drinks would be served until 2 a.m. On the anniversary of Anton’s death, Sept. 7, her family held a memorial service in McLean, Va. Anton’s mother says friends and family traveled from as far away as Arizona to remember her daughter. Anton’s father has set up a fund in his daughter’s name at Habitat for Humanity. The fund has raised about $475,000 to date. “We’re devastated,” says Grace Anton. “She was so full of life and had her whole life ahead of her. She had such incredible potential, and we’ve been robbed of that.”

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