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Hit-and-run victim sues drunk driver, two bars in Duluth

DULUTH -- A former St. Francis High School honors student and athlete who was critically injured and suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was struck by a drunken driver while walking along Rice Lake Road is suing the driver and the two bars that allegedly served her alcohol.

A jury trial has been set for May in the civil lawsuit brought by Alex Balluff and his father, Michael, against Julie Ann Gronski, PK&J's, Inc., doing business as Foster's Sports Bar & Grill, and the Runway Bar & Grill Inc.

Balluff was walking with friends along Rice Lake Road last Oct. 31 when he was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Gronski.

The suit asks for more than $50,000 in damages and alleges that Gronski struck Balluff, catapulting him into the windshield of her vehicle, before she turned sharply causing Balluff to fall off the hood as Gronski accelerated away from the scene.

It further alleges that Foster's Sports Bar & Grill and Runway Bar & Grill illegally sold Gronski alcohol when she was visibly intoxicated.

In court-filed answers, both bars deny that they sold alcohol to Gronski when she was obviously intoxicated.

Gronski, 28, testified at her criminal plea hearing in April that she drank a dozen beers and up to 15 shots of alcohol before getting behind the wheel of her Honda CRV. She said she started the night of Oct. 30 drinking at the establishment where she worked as a waitress and then drove to a nearby bar. She said she didn't recall getting into her vehicle. She remembered being behind the wheel for a split second and remembered something hitting her windshield. She said she thought she hit a deer. She didn't remember anything else.

Balluff was an honors student and a basketball and baseball standout at St. Francis High School, where he graduated in 2009. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and contusions to his right kidney and spleen when hit by Gronski's vehicle. Nicholas Biser, a friend walking with Balluff, was hit by the side mirror of her vehicle and received an elbow injury.

Gronski was sentenced in May to nine months in jail, six years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service after pleading guilty to driving drunk.