The Sangamon County Board’s liquor committee Tuesday unanimously revoked the liquor license for JD’s Lounge near Illiopolis after hearing that it has long been a problem for police.

The Sangamon County Board’s liquor committee Tuesday unanimously revoked the liquor license for JD’s Lounge near Illiopolis after hearing that it has long been a problem for police.


 


The committee acted after owner Donyal Banning said she did not object. More than a dozen police officers, including Larry Trent, director of the Illinois State Police, attended the hearing at the Sangamon County Complex in Springfield.


 


State police Trooper Brian McMillen lost his life Oct. 28 while responding to a fracas at JD’s. Police say McMillen collided with a pair of suspected drunken drivers.


 


Dwayne Gab, an assistant state’s attorney who advises the liquor committee, said state police had compiled a list of 116 incidents related to JD’s since Oct. 1, 2006, that have required 367 man hours. The list, which includes statistics from the state police, Sangamon and Macon county sheriff’s offices and Decatur police, included 18 drunken drivers, at least a dozen fights and a litany of other problems ranging from loud music to a car hitting a deer.


 


State police coordinated the investigation into whether JD’s should keep its county liquor license. After the McMillen accident, state police canvassed the area around JD’s gathering complaints from residents about loud music, litter and other problems. Trent could not recall another instance of the state heading an investigation into a county liquor licensee.


 


“We simply volunteered to do that,” Trent said. “We have analysts available.”


 


Problems linked to the bar date back to previous ownership, when the tavern was known as Jukebox Junction. A man was shot in the parking lot in March 2005. In October of that year, a Decatur police officer was struck and killed by a man who’d been drinking at Jukebox Junction.


 


After the county granted her a 3 a.m. liquor license, Banning opened the bar as JD’s in September 2006. The first incident involving JD’s was a driving under the influence arrest on Oct. 1, 2006, police said. By Dec. 9 of last year, three additional DUI arrests had been made.


 


Between Oct. 29 and Nov. 18 of last year, state troopers responded to three fights at the bar. The day after Christmas, gunfire broke out during a confrontation between gang members in the parking lot. And the calls kept coming — DUIs, fights, disturbances, a theft, a vehicle burglary, a stabbing — until the county shut JD’s down after McMillen was killed.


 


The county suspended the bar’s liquor license last week pending Tuesday’s hearing. Trent would not say whether the county should have acted sooner to shut the bar down.


 


“I don’t think that’s an appropriate question,” he said.


 


Not all of the information about JD’s gathered by police made it to the attention of county liquor officials prior to the crash that killed McMillen. For instance, Ted Buecker, deputy liquor commissioner, said he still has not seen a videotape taken by a Sangamon County sheriff’s deputy that shows patrons lined up to enter JD’s at 2:40 a.m. on Sept. 29, after Banning had promised she would not admit anyone after 2:30 a.m. Gab said he hadn’t seen the video until last week.


 


In an interview after the accident, Banning told a state police investigator that patrons trying to bring alcohol into the bar was a continual problem, according to a state police report. James Banning, her husband, told investigators that three men left the bar drunk on the night McMillen died.


 


“When asked if many of his bar patrons are intoxicated while there, he replied, ‘All of the customers are drunk when they get there,’” a state investigator wrote in a report given to the liquor committee. “He added the customers show up intoxicated and ‘She (his wife Donyal Banning) sells them drinks and they get drunker.’ He further advised some of the patrons ‘toot coke and take ecstasy pills.’”


 


In 2003, James Banning pleaded guilty to aggravated battery to a police officer, a felony. Gab told the liquor committee that James Banning is, in fact, an owner of JD’s and that the couple concealed that fact when applying for a liquor license because of his conviction, which would have made it difficult for him to obtain a license.


 


The couple denied that James Banning owned the bar, although they acknowledged his name is on the mortgage. James Banning said he bought the property because he had better credit than his wife.


 


It took Gab about 20 minutes to outline the case against JD’s to the liquor committee. It took Donyal Banning less than three minutes to tell the committee she wouldn’t fight license revocation.


 


“She’s giving it up willingly,” James Banning said as the committee deliberated in executive session. “I’d have fought it. I bought the place for her. I’m just the head bouncer.”


 


Most of JD’s clientele was black, and James Banning said that helped spell the demise of the bar.


 


“White country people don’t like black people,” he said. “Out of 100 (customers), 85 of them are good and 15 of them are gang members.”


 


Sheriff’s Capt. Jack Campbell said he hopes the county will take a look at the remaining five bars in unincorporated Sangamon County that are allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.


 


“The 3 a.m. bars are the most taxing on my manpower,” Campbell said. “When I look at the tavern incident reports, the files on the 3 a.m. taverns are the thickest.


Buecker said it would take action by the entire county board to close down 3 a.m. bars. He noted that Springfield grants 3 a.m. licenses.


 


“Remember, these are people’s businesses,” Buecker said. “It’s going to go somewhere, unfortunately.”


 


Bruce Rushton can be reached at (217) 788-1542 or bruce.rushton@sj-r.com.