Drowned man had been at Mermaids

FATAL MISTAKE: The drain near Te Papa where Peter Black died.
FATAL MISTAKE: The drain near Te Papa where Peter Black died.

A heavily intoxicated man who drowned after falling into a Wellington stormwater drain had been drinking at Mermaids strip bar for hours, a coroner has found.

Peter Black, 43, was so drunk that he fell out of a spa at the Splash Club brothel, upstairs from the bar, smashing his lip and nose on the stairs in the final hours before his death.

The findings from Wellington coroner Garry Evans come after an Auckland tribunal heard evidence last week that the Chow brothers Mermaids strip bars were dens of drunkenness.

Business practices at the bar were carefully calculated and promoted by the businessmen brothers to prise as much money as possible from patrons' pockets, a Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority heard.

The brothers' lawyer argued they have run businesses for more than 12 years and the evidence presented against them is an effort by rival Calendar Girls to eliminate a competitor.

In his findings released today, Mr Evans described how Wellington welder Mr Black was thought to have left Mermaids between 5am and 6am on the morning of January 14, 2012. 

He was seen on Te Papa CCTV cameras at 5.54am, approaching his red van parked in a Barnett St carpark.

Police believe he then fumbled with his keys, dropping them down a storm water drain. He proceeded to lift the heavy cover off the drain and reach in for his keys, losing balance and falling in to the water.

The drain was 1.2 metres deep and only half a metre wide, making it impossible for Mr Black to pull himself out. The water rose and covered his body, with only the soles of his feet visable above the water.

His body was found by police a day later, when a passerby reported seeing legs sticking out of the drain.
Blood testing revealed Mr Black's blood alcohol level was 272 milligrams per 100 milliliters of blood, five times higher than the drink-driving limit.

He had been known to drink heavily since his separation from his wife, in December 2011.

On the night of January 13 Mr Black began drinking with colleagues in Johnsonville at 4pm, driving into Wellington alone and briefly patronising Hooch and Mini bars before heading to Mermaids just before midnight.

The alcohol - coupled with his sexual activities at the Splash Club - would have left him fatigued, police said.

Mr Evans did not believe Mr Black would have lifted the heavy storm water cover, attempted to reach for his keys or lost his balance if he had been sober and alert.

No safety recommendations were made to Wellington City Council. "It is unlikely that the circumstances surrounding Mr Black's death will be repeated in the future," he wrote.

The liquor licences of both The Mermaid Bar and The Splash Club were suspended for 24 and 48 hours respectively following the police investigation in October 2012.

The liquor licencing authority noted that Mermaids had taken steps to ensure alcohol from its premises would not be taken into the Splash Club, and the Splash Club had agreed to more proactively assess patrons for intoxication.

The Dominion Post