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State Liquor Authority Probes Bar Drunk Officer Visited Before Fatal Crash

By Gwynne Hogan | July 20, 2016 6:26pm
 The bar, the last stop Nicholas Batka made before crashing into four pedestrians and killing one, could lose its license.
The bar, the last stop Nicholas Batka made before crashing into four pedestrians and killing one, could lose its license.
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WILLIAMSBURG — The State Liquor Authority is investigating the bar where a fired NYPD officer charged with killing an MIT student in a drunken-driving crash last stopped — a probe that could close the popular Brooklyn watering hole. 

The Whiskey Brooklyn, at 44 Berry St., was 28-year-old rookie officer Nicholas Batka's last stop before he jumped in his 2012 Dodge Durango, according to Capt. Peter Rose, head of the 94th Precinct. Batka's car mounted the curb near Bedford and North 8th Street on Saturday just after 3 a.m., killing 21-year-old Andrew Esquivel and injuring three others, police and prosecutors said.

Rose said police were working to determine how long Batka spent at the bar. It wasn't immediately clear if workers there served him drinks, Rose said.

State law prohibits bars from continuing to serve alcohol to people who show visible signs of intoxication and the State Liquor Authority immediately began investigating the crash, said William Crowley, a spokesman for the agency.

"SLA immediately opened a joint investigation with the NYPD into this incident," he said. "This investigation is ongoing."

The Whiskey Brooklyn was opened in 2010 by owners George and Justin Ruotolo, Rob Magill, James Wiseman of Cayuga Capital and his brother John Wiseman, according to its website. The team also owns The Whiskey Tavern in Chinatown, Whiskey Town in the East Village and The Whiskey Annex next door to Whiskey Brooklyn.

Developer James Wiseman is also involved in other bars and real estate ventures across North Brooklyn and beyond, like Output in nearby Williamsburg, Playland Motel in Rockaway, the beleaguered Brooklyn Mirage, a 2,000-person venue with a pending liquor license application, currently shuttered by the city for safety violations, where he owns the property but isn't on the liquor license application, he said.

When a fatality of this nature occurs, the SLA launches an investigation that can lead to the revocation of a bar's liquor license, said attorney Argilio Rodriguez, who specializes in liquor law. If the license gets revoked, it won't impact other liquor licenses controlled by the owners, but it could impact their ability to open new bars or venues.

"That will substantially decrease their chances to obtain a license in the future," he said. "You know how it is with community boards — they pretty much seize on everything."

James Wiseman confirmed his name was on the liquor license but deferred to George Ruotolo for further comment. Ruotolo didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. Whiskey Brooklyn managers didn't return two additional requests for comment left with workers at the bar and the attached liquor store.

As a rookie officer, Batka was still on probation the night of the accident. He was fired Wednesday from the NYPD. Two other officers suspected of drinking with Batka, of Greenpoint, have been stripped of their guns and badges and are on modified duty, officials said.