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Local hookah lounge penalized following fight, gunshots

Leonardtown, MD- Things got a little tense during the monthly St. Mary's County Alcohol Beverage Board meeting on Thursday, April 12 in Leonardtown. The Pax Lounge, a hookah bar in Loveville, was at the center of the controversy.

The establishment was cited for violating the peace and safety of the community. It stemmed from an incident outside of the lounge in the early morning hours of February 18. According to several witnesses and the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, dozens of patrons spilled into the parking lot and onto Point Lookout Road during a fight. In the middle of the melee, witnesses reported hearing three gunshots. No one was hurt.

McKenna Fisher, a paramedic, was on duty that night. She and another paramedic were traveling south on Point Lookout Road from Mechanicsville to MedStar St. Mary’s in Leonardtown. She testified that when they approached the area of the lounge, dozens of people were on the road and appeared to be fighting. Fisher said some people started hitting the windshield and one person jumped on the hood of the ambulance. During the commotion, several people tried to open the locked door of the ambulance. Despite the driver’s attempt at leaving with lights and sirens on, the crowd refused to disperse and Fisher called for police.

Garrett Thomas of Loveville, lives next door to The Pax Lounge. He testified that he woke up when he heard a large ruckus outside of his house. Thomas said a large group of people was fighting in the road and he heard three gunshots. Even after the shots were fired, Thomas said the crowd continued their scuffle and only left the scene when they heard police sirens.

The same story was corroborated by neighbor William Abell, who lives directly across the street. Abell said there were well over 60 people involved in the fray.

The first responding officer to the scene was Deputy Shawn Shelko. He said he was searching for any victims after the report of gunfire. When it was clear no one was hurt, he proceeded to shut down the roadway. Shelko said people took off running down Pin Cushion Road, trying to escape before more officers arrived. Shelko said, “people were panicked.”

The St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office told TheBayNet.com when officers arrived they found no evidence of shots being fired nor any victims of a fight.

The owner of The Pax Lounge is Jay Faruque. He was represented by attorney Shane Mattingly. Faruque told the board the issue started with a group of people who were refused entry into the lounge earlier in the evening. “We were at capacity and they were getting upset because we wouldn’t let them in,” Faruque explained.

Head of security Jim Davis backed up the story. “The crowd was threatening me and even offered me money and I told them to leave,” Davis said they left but they returned later and started the fight. “They threatened to shut the club down.”

Several members of the Alcohol Beverage Board were clearly concerned about the events that transpired in February. Board member Leonard Kohl didn’t hold back his frustrations. “You had two violations six weeks apart, both involving guns,” Kohl stated.

“You said this was going to be a low-key hookah bar and a family-friendly place, it’s not,” stated board member Linda Palchinsky. The Pax Lounge website touts itself as “A safe and relaxing bar and hookah lounge in St. Mary’s County.”

“You have got to get your act together,” Palchinsky demanded.

After the board voted to find The Pax Lounge guilty of the violation, there was back and forth discussion about the penalty. During the deliberation, another neighbor became upset. Matthew Thomas said, “I don’t think this should be in an Amish Community. There are cars parked along the highway and the Amish have to go around them. This is a disruption to the community every weekend.”

After the meeting, Faruque and his brother, Zack, spoke with TheBayNet.com. “We have thousands of happy customers weekend after weekend. You never hear about that, only when something bad happens.”

Zack said the group who caused the disturbance in February has been banned from the lounge. “We’re banning troublemakers. We’re very active in the community and we want it to be a safe place.

Faruque said he has eight security guards on staff at all times to help with parking and crowd control. “There’s never been a single complaint about noise,” Faruque noted.

The Alcohol Beverage Board eventually agreed on a penalty of a 30-day suspension of the liquor license and a $1,000 fine.

Contact Joy Shrum at j.shrum@thebaynet.com

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