Judge adds third-party defendant in Shotgun Willie’s wrongful death suit

Death at Shotgun Willie's in Denver subject of lawsuit

Shotgun Willie’s is one of the Denver area’s most prominent strip clubs, with a sign along Colorado Boulevard in Glendale. (BusinessDen file)

A strip club bartender accused in a lawsuit of choking and killing an unruly customer three years ago argues another man is at least partly to blame — the deceased customer’s friend.

Derek Hendricks, who tackled Randall Wright on the night of May 2, 2019, at Shotgun Willie’s in Glendale, has not been charged with a crime but is being sued by Wright’s family in Arapahoe County District Court. The strip club is also a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit.

On Monday, Judge Peter Michaelson ruled that Hendricks can add a third-party defendant to the Wright family’s lawsuit, over the objection of the Wrights. That defendant is John Liprando.

Third-party defendants are added to a case when a judge determines they could be partly liable for what the other defendants are accused of doing. If Hendricks and the strip club are found to be liable for Wright’s death, Liprando could also be found partly liable for his friend’s death.

A phone call and email seeking comment from Liprando, a real estate broker with the Denver firm SullivanHayes, were not answered.

Liprando and Wright got in an argument with Ibrahim Mazgaldzhiev that turned into a fistfight at Shotgun Willie’s around 10:20 p.m. that night. Surveillance footage shows the two chased Mazgaldzhiev through the club until Hendricks tackled Wright in an attempt to stop the scuffle. Wright became unresponsive a short time later and died that night at a Denver hospital.

Wright’s family sued Hendricks and the club in October of 2019, alleging the bartender had used a chokehold on the 48-year-old Wright that killed him. The defendants say no chokehold was used and Wright died of cardiac arrest due to the fight’s strain on his enlarged and diseased heart.

Shotgun Willies inside

A scene from inside Shotgun Willie’s. (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)

In recent weeks, attorneys for Hendricks have expanded on that latter theory. They say Kelly Lear, the Arapahoe County coroner who conducted the official autopsy on Wright, told them in a sworn deposition that Wright’s heart was diseased and “big enough that it could have” led to “a cardiac event and … sudden death” of Wright even if there hadn’t been a fight that night.

“I see people who die from this without anything else associated with it. They’re standing in the kitchen and this would cause them to die. It’s not a normal, healthy heart,” Lear said during her deposition, according to a court filing by Hendricks’ attorney, Frederick Bibik, on Sunday.

Hendricks argues that Liprando should be at the defendants’ table alongside him because, he claims, it was Liprando who started the fight and shoved Wright and Mazgaldzhiev to the floor.

“While Hendricks has indicated he intended to take the aggressor Wright down to the floor, Wright and Mazgaldzhiev were already falling over due to Liprando’s push and Wright’s momentum,” Bibik wrote in his request to add Liprando as a defendant April 28. “Further investigation has identified Liprando as an aggressive individual, trained in boxing and martial arts and previously known as an ‘enforcer’ when he played professional hockey.”

Michaelson denied a similar request to add Liprando as a defendant in December, saying it was “doubtful that Hendricks can establish Liprando contributed to the cause of Wright’s death.” But on Monday, he found Hendricks’ new evidence — enhanced security footage and the opinion of a hired expert who determined Wright died of a pre-existing heart condition — more persuasive.

“A reasonable trier of fact,” the judge wrote, “could conclude Liprando’s actions contributed to or caused Wright to be ‘in a state of both emotional excitement and physical exertion’ which ultimately led to Wright’s death.”

Attorneys for the Wright family declined to comment on the judge’s order. In court filings before the order, they had asked Michaelson to dismiss Hendricks’ request and also to sanction Bibik for wasting the court’s time. Michaelson did not dismiss the request but did agree to penalize Bibik by making him cover the additional costs that the plaintiffs and Liprando will now incur.

An eight-day trial is still scheduled to begin Nov. 7, though attorneys for the Wrights have argued that adding Liprando to the case will delay it until 2023. The judge acknowledged Monday that his decision “adding Liprando as a party will likely cause undue delay.”

Judge makes a ruling in Shotgun Willie's lawsuit

Death at Shotgun Willie's in Denver subject of lawsuit

Shotgun Willie’s is one of the Denver area’s most prominent strip clubs, with a sign along Colorado Boulevard in Glendale. (BusinessDen file)

The bartender who tackled the deceased claimed the man's friend is partly at fault for starting a fight that strained his bad heart and led to his death.

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