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Charges: Man Had 8 Double Vodkas At Maplewood Bar Before Hit-And-Run That Killed John Benjamin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Maplewood man charged in the hit-and-run death of a Deaf man in St. Paul was seen on video drinking eight alcoholic drinks before the crash, according to a criminal complaint.

Fifty-seven-year-old Robert Kinney faces a felony charge of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of 68-year-old John Benjamin.

RELATED: Man Arrested In Hit-And-Run Death Of John Benjamin

According to the criminal complaint, officers were called to McKnight Road North and Margaret Street Jan. 22. There, they found a man facedown in the snowbank, unresponsive. Medics arrived and turned the man over, finding his face mask blood-soaked. The man, later identified as Benjamin, was declared dead at the scene.

John Benjamin
John Benjamin (credit: CBS)

Officers found vehicle debris in the roadway, and a neighbor said she heard loud noises outside of her home.

An anonymous tipster told police the driver who hit Benjamin was a regular of Maplewood's 5-8 Tavern & Grill, named "Bob." Checking the bar's receipts from the night of the hit and run, investigators found Kinney's name. A bartender confirmed "Bob" and Kinney were the same person.

The bar's surveillance video showed Kinney drinking "8 double Tito's" over three hours on the night Benjamin was killed. Police later found a receipt from the bar in Kinney's residence, dated the night of the incident.

Officers found Kinney in the garage of his home Tuesday, noting a large dent in his vehicle. They arrested him and towed his car.

RELATED: 'We Can't Just Let This Go': Search Continues For Driver Who Killed John Benjamin, 68

In an interview, police asked Kinney if he knew anything about the hit-and-run.

"I know there's damage on my car, but what was the result of the damage?" Kinney said, according to the complaint.

He also said he mostly stayed home on Jan. 22, but when asked if he stopped anywhere before going home, he asked for a lawyer and the interview ended. The vehicle debris found at the scene matched Kinney's car.

Robert Kinney mug
(credit: Ramsey County)

Standing along a busy McKnight Road on the border of St. Paul and Maplewood, the pain of what happened nearby last week hasn't left the mind of Benjamin's friend, Rick Riley.

"It's tragic," RIley said. "Very sad, very sad for everybody."

News of an arrest brought Riley some joy, but also frustration towards the driver.

"I don't have a lot of sympathy for him. He could have stopped. My friend might be alive right now," Riley said.

Riley was glad someone tipped off police. He wonders though if the 5-8 Tavern might be partly responsible for what happened that tragic night.

"I drank up at that bar once or twice. They sure didn't feed me that much liquor before they told me to get out," Riley said. "Why would they keep serving this guy?"

WCCO tried to contact management at 5-8 Tavern and its partner restaurant 5-8 Club in Minneapolis for comment, but could not reach them.

5-8 Tavern in Maplewood
(credit: CBS)

Minnesota law states a business can be held liable for selling alcohol to an "obviously intoxicated" person if that person's actions result in injury or death. It wouldn't result in criminal charges, rather a civil lawsuit, according to attorney Eric Palmer with Meshbesher & Spence.

"You have to get the evidence in place in order to prove that the individual was obviously intoxicated or would likely have been exhibiting the signs of obvious intoxication at the time of that sale," Palmer said.

That evidence could include eyewitness statements, surveillance video and receipts. Palmer said bar staff must be trained to see signs of intoxication.

"Their responsibility is to prevent the individual from getting to the point of obvious intoxication in the first place," Palmer said. "What the individual chooses to do once they leave the bar is not necessarily under the control of the bar."

He also acknowledges that different people demonstrate different types and traits of being intoxicated.

Kinney has two misdemeanor DWI arrests on his record. He is in custody and could serve up to 10 years if convicted.


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