Note to readers on Denny’s shooting – we don’t live in the Old West: Editor’s Note

I don’t make a habit writing columns about news stories I am covering. But this week I made an exception, in the case of the Denny’s shooting lawsuit. It’s our front-page story, and it’s a statement about a lot of things: the utter randomness of a criminal act, a survivor’s hopes, and Denny’s statement that it was not responsible for the bullets that flew that night. These were things I expected to hear – by their nature, lawsuits have at least two sides, if not more. The thing that surprised me? The reaction by some of our readers. They weren’t just disgruntled Denny’s was being sued – they were close to outraged.

I don’t make a habit writing columns about news stories I am covering. But this week I made an exception, in the case of the Denny’s shooting lawsuit.

It’s our front-page story, and it’s a statement about a lot of things: the utter randomness of a criminal act, a survivor’s hopes, and Denny’s statement that it was not responsible for the bullets that flew that night.

These were things I expected to hear – by their nature, lawsuits have at least two sides, if not more.

The thing that surprised me?

The reaction by some of our readers. They weren’t just disgruntled Denny’s was being sued – they were close to outraged.

“I completely disagree with this lawsuit! Sue the shooter!” one reader commented on our Web site. “It’s not anyone’s business responsibility to provide security. If you don’t feel safe at a particular place, don’t go there!”

Another reader had a similar bone to pick.

“We are surrounded by crazy people every day,” the reader wrote on our site. “If you want to avoid this type of a crowd, stay out of the public after bar hours… plain and simple – keep clear of the trouble.”

Sorry, but when did we start living in the Old West, where gunslingers can shoot up the local watering hole on a whim?

Denny’s wasn’t using security guards that night – or any nights, at least then (ownership of the restaurant has since changed hands, and I don’t know what their current policy for security is.)

But back in 2007, even Denny’s own employees had expressed worries about their safety.

Other local eateries in Kent were using security guards back then – and still do regularly. In fact, it was off-duty police officers who tossed the eventual shooter, Frank Evans, from the Kent restaurant where he started getting rowdy that night.

After getting that earlier heave-ho, Evans went to the Kent Denny’s and walked in not just once (the first time starting a fight with a random customer), but twice (the second time bearing the semiautomatic gun that rendered an innocent bystander a quadriplegic.)

It’s all well and good to point at the shooter – he did it, and nobody’s arguing otherwise.

But to tell someone who’s now paralyzed that he shouldn’t have been eating in a restaurant late if he didn’t want trouble?

Ridiculous.

I’m sure none of these anonymous commenters would be using that logic if it was them parked in that wheelchair. They’d want justice – and a deeper set of pockets than some guy sitting in the state pen.

Fortunately the jury in this case didn’t buy that logic, either. They found in favor of Steven Tolenoa, the man spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Now, at least, he’s got a chance for a more normal life.

Even if some out there felt Denny’s got the equivalent of a Grand Slam, as a result.


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