Shane Montgomery was asked to leave Kildare’s Manayunk shortly after 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving 2014. Surveillance cameras captured the 21-year-old West Chester University student walking, alone, away from the Main Street bar and toward the Schuylkill River.

Then he disappeared, his whereabouts sought by the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department, and his frantic family and friends. Five weeks later, volunteer divers found Montgomery’s body draped over a log, submerged in shallow water near the river bank closest to Main Street.

After hearing testimony for three weeks, a Philadelphia jury on Friday began weighing a key question: Was Montgomery’s death the fault of the bar that last served him and kicked him out for being stumbling drunk? Or did blame belong to the young man himself, who had been drinking at a friend’s home and three other bars for hours before coming to Kildare’s with friends?

The city medical examiner had ruled Montgomery’s death an accident. There was no determination of how he ended up in the river. But the wrongful death lawsuit filed by his parents, Kevin and Karen Montgomery of Philadelphia, faulted Kildare’s Manayunk Inc., two of its bouncers — including the one who decided to eject him — and James Townsend, its director of operations.

Shane Montgomery, 21, was last seen early Thanksgiving 2014 at Kildare's Manayunk. His body was found in the river six weeks later.
Philadelphia Police Department
Shane Montgomery, 21, was last seen early Thanksgiving 2014 at Kildare's Manayunk. His body was found in the river six weeks later.

The Montgomerys contend that the bar violated state law by serving alcohol to their son when he was “visibly" intoxicated, and that its employees acted negligently by not calling him a taxi or trying to find his friends before they kicked him out after he loudly crashed to the floor from his bar stool.

Their lawyers — and witnesses they called — claimed the sprawling, three-story bar was understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the usually rowdy college-aged crowds that made the place a Main Street destination. It closed in 2016.

“Although Shane’s body has been found, there is still one thing missing: justice,” lawyer Slade H. McLaughlin told the nine women and three men on the jury Friday.

For more than an hour, McLaughlin railed against the bar and its employees, accusing them of kicking Montgomery out into the cold instead of following the establishment’s rules to get him a taxi and to try to find his friends.

Their attitude was,“Let’s get rid of him,” he said.

But lawyers for the defendants argued that although Montgomery was drunk when he arrived at Kildare’s, there was no concrete evidence he was “visibly” intoxicated, the state requirement for cutting off service. They said that while the bar’s rules called for staff to arrange transportation for a visibly inebriated patron, not doing so is not a violation of the law.

The defense, instead, placed the blame squarely on Montgomery. The lawyers and their expert witnesses pored through the college student’s medical and education records, painting a picture of a young man awash in alcohol.

“Mr. Montgomery understood the dangers of over-consumption. … He was a smart young man. He was in college, doing OK. But he and his friends, on Nov. 26, made a conscious decision to overconsume alcohol,” lawyer Theodore M. Schaer said Friday.

Schaer also argued that the evidence not only failed to prove that the bar served Montgomery while he was visibly intoxicated, but also couldn’t answer how he ended up in the river. He noted that the sloped riverbank nearest to where his body was found was covered in brush and rocks, but Montgomery’s body had no bruising or internal or external injuries, and his clothing was not tattered or torn.

“My Lord, the dots just don’t connect,” Schaer said.

Montgomery began drinking at age 16 and his drinking spiked at West Chester, the records indicated. In October 2011, he was hospitalized for two days with alcohol-related hepatitis after blacking out at a homecoming party, Elena del Busto, a forensic psychiatric expert, told the jury.

Del Busto told jurors that Montgomery appeared to have a mild case of alcohol-use disorder, marked by a person’s use of alcohol causing distress or clinically significant impairment. It’s not rare: 18 percent to 21 percent of college students have mild AUD, she said.

Even after the university placed him on probation and he completed an alcohol education class, del Busto said, Montgomery was cited twice more for underage drinking on campus and ordered to take a more advanced alcohol education program. Then, weeks before the night of his disappearance, witnesses said, he and a friend got drunk while bar-hopping with a friend in West Chester.

“He had been warned and counseled," del Busto testified, "but he continued to drink at risky rates.”