Justin George, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Friday, June 27, 2008
SEFFNER — Eric Morris didn't like to back down.
So on Tuesday, when a friend challenged him to down shots of a mixture of Crown Royal, cherry vodka and Red Bull, Morris began drinking.
Thirty minutes, and at least 23 shots later, he staggered back from the bar, took a few steps, fell over and died.
"It's just because we had to be tough," said his sister, Jaquie, 27, who said she heard details from a woman who watched. "We were raised to be tough."
Never known as more than a social drinker who sipped beer, Morris, 26, arrived about 5 p.m. Tuesday inside the dark, neon confines of Angels Showbar, a bikini club off U.S. 92 where he worked as a bouncer, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway. A friend challenged him to a drinking contest, his sister said.
The bartender poured five shots. Then 10. Morris' competitor stopped but he wouldn't. Somewhere past 23, Morris demanded more, but the bartender cut him off.
The 6-foot-4 man pounded his fists defiantly on the bar, took a few steps toward the club's champagne room before all 210 pounds collapsed in a hallway. The bar staff circled and laughed until Morris' vomiting sobered the crowd and someone tried CPR, Jaquie Morris said.
Then paramedics arrived and tried to resuscitate him. But it was too late. He was pronounced dead at Brandon Regional Hospital.
Morris' death remains under investigation. The Hillsborough Medical Examiner hasn't released a cause of death or toxicology results, Callaway said.
Fatal dose of alcohol
Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex, which prevents choking. A fatal dose of alcohol will stop these functions, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Bars do not have legal restrictions on how much alcohol they can serve customers, Callaway said. The Sheriff's Office has a voluntary program that teaches area bars safe serving practices, but it's not known whether Angels Showbar participated.
Last year, a 33-year-old man was found dead in a vehicle outside the club. Investigators suspected he died of a drug overdose. Records show that the bar is owned by Henart Inc. A man at the club, who wouldn't provide his name but claimed to be the owner, declined to comment.
"All I know is what we're told," Morris' adoptive mother, Vicki Morris, said, sobbing over the phone from her house in Grand Rapids, Mich. "He was a sweet kid. And he tried very hard to do what was right all the time."
Morris died just as his life seemed to be turning around, said his sister. His past had been filled with heartaches.
They came from a family of seven boys and two sisters, who Colorado social workers pried away from their mother and split up into foster homes, Jaquie Morris said. Five years later, Vicki Morris and her husband adopted four of the children, including Jaquie and Eric.
The family moved to Michigan, where the kids found stability with a mother was a lawyer and a father who sold insurance. But the children had a rough time in school. Just one girl graduated from high school, Jaquie said, and she was pregnant at the time.
People dared Morris to jump off roofs and ride atop moving cars, and he did.
He went to prison in Michigan for breaking and entering and other crimes. Morris earned a diploma and a culinary degree behind bars, his sister said.
After he was released, a newborn daughter died from a genetic ailment just two months after she was born. She joined Morris' first born, who had died a few years earlier at the age of 2 from epilepsy, his sister said.
Looking for a fresh start, Eric and Jaquie bought $50 bus tickets for Florida.
The pair lived in motels and with friends, working as roofers until Jaquie broke her wrist. Eric Morris got a job as a bouncer at the Moulin Rouge, which would later become Angels.
He spent seven months in a Florida prison on burglary and grand theft charges, and was released March 29. He gave up smoking marijuana and began bouncing again at his old workplace, with an eye toward electrician school, his sister said.
He planned to get his first driver's license on Wednesday, she said, a milestone never reached.
"They should have cut him off after the first five," she said.
Times researchers Will Gorham and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.