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Friday, August 29, 2014

Accused of Drugging and Raping Employee, A Put-In-Bay Bar Manager Is Finally Indicted

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Chris Blessing managed both Mr. Eds Bar & Grille and Mist pool bar
  • Chris Blessing managed both Mr. Ed's Bar & Grille and Mist pool bar

Chris Blessing, a 32-year-old Put-In-Bay bar manager, was indicted this week on two counts of rape, nearly four months after an employee accused him of drugging and raping her, the Sandusky Register reported today (see "Arrest made in alleged roofie rape" for the details). He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment yesterday in the Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas.

Blessing manages both Mr. Ed's Bar & Grill and Mist pool bar, where a number of women have been apparently drugged during the past several summers, according to EMS and police reports. Although we withheld Blessing's name in the story because he hadn't been formally charged yet, he was the manager we were referencing in our July 30 feature "Roofie Island: A Summer of Reported Druggings and Rapes on Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie's Party Destination." Here's an excerpt from that story about the manager and the alleged rape that he was just indicted for (page two of the story):

The Mist pool bar is situated just off the main strip, flanked by Mr. Ed's Bar & Grille — a modern clubby bar with live music throughout the day and DJs at night, which boasts the slogan "Nobody's ugly after 2" — and the two buildings of the Commodore hotel, where people book rooms long in advance to be in the center of the weekend action. Mist, Mr. Ed's, and the hotel are owned by local businessman Ed Fitzgerald (not that Ed FitzGerald), and are operated by the same management. On warm, sunny days, Mist will begin to fill up around noon, and for the next six hours or so, guys and gals lay out in lounge chairs or stand in the pool's waist-high water, bellying up to the bar, dancing along to the constant drone of Rihanna, Iggy Azalea and other Top-40 hits.

Fitzgerald's businesses are at the center of the bar scene and the center of Put-In-Bay's drugging and rape problem.

In early May, a trauma nurse at a southeast Michigan hospital called Put-In-Bay police to report a woman was raped on the island that weekend. According to the police report (where the victim's and suspect's names have been redacted), the nurse relayed the story: a Mr. Ed's manager asked a female bartender to have drinks with him after work on a Saturday. Once out with him, she lost consciousness, only to come-to at 2:30 a.m. with her boss on top of her, yelling at her to "take her fucking clothes off." She told him no, the report says, and that she was on her period. But he pulled down her pants, pulled out her tampon, and had his way with her. The police report says the woman declined to pursue charges because she didn't want to lose her job, but that turned out to not be true.

An Ottawa County Sheriff's Office detective had been working on the case and last week issued a 34-page report to Ottawa County prosecutor Mark Mulligan, who will decide whether to press charges, as first reported by the Sandusky Register. The report documents the graphic details of what happened to the woman, the psychological trauma the woman has dealt with since the attack, and summaries of a recorded phone call she had with the man, as well as interviews with co-workers and friends who were around that night, and how his DNA matched with DNA found on her underwear.

The report also brought to light two other instances where the manager had been suspected of drugging at least two other bartenders on the island. The bartender he allegedly drugged last summer said she had two shots with the man and then couldn't remember anything the rest of the day, only to wake up naked in a hotel shower, with him standing over her thinking she was dead. Witnesses recalled how the man whisked the woman to a hotel and refused to let let anybody else in the room to check on her. The other drugging incident reported was an employee of another bar who was served two shots by the man at Mr. Ed's only to realize something wasn't right with how she was feeling. Her last memory was texting her boyfriend to come pick her up. The next day, according to the person who relayed the story to the detective, the manager came by "with a posse of 10 guys yelling at her about spreading rumors" and that "he had a reputation to uphold and that she just couldn't handle island drinking."

The suspect's identity is redacted in the report, but some non-police sources provided his name. The 32-year-old manages both Mr. Ed's and Mist, and was spotted still working there last week.

Outside of the detective's report, the man's name shows up in an August 2011 police report after he and another Mr. Ed's employee refused to leave a Commodore Hotel room where he had followed a female guest into the bathroom and tried to kiss her and then argued with the guests in their room who wanted him out. "Upon making contact with the members of room 242, they stated they just wanted the Ed's employees to leave their hotel and leave them alone," the 2011 police report states. The manager was kicked out and "began to yell loudly and was told to keep it down or he would be sobering up at the jail."

Police and EMS have been regulars at the Mist pool bar — where he also works — this summer, having been summoned on several Saturdays for multiple reports of unconscious, unresponsive and vomiting females, incidents that EMS believed were tied to date-rape drugs slipped into their drinks, not simply the case of someone imbibing too much. Put-In-Bay EMS is very familiar with responding to the regular over-intoxication of drinkers; these people were not just that.

At 5 p.m. on May 25, police "were dispatched to Mist for a possible drugged female." They found a woman "sitting in a chair leaning over a garbage can." EMS took her to the station but there was no further investigation.

Just before 4 p.m. on July 7, they were dispatched for a drugged female at the pool, only to have one of her friends pass out at the same time EMS was treating her, stoking EMS's fears that more women have been and will be drugged: "The EMS worker informed me that it was most likely ruphy (sic) and stated there will probably be a lot more individuals getting ruphied (sic)." The police report notes "nothing further" in terms of an investigation.

Two Saturdays later, at the same time of day, they were back out there again. A woman who had been at Mist was sitting just outside the pool bar, propped up by two friends. She was "unresponsive to any attempts to get her attention." EMS placed her in an ambulance, telling police she was likely slipped rohypnol.

According to Put-In-Bay police records obtained by Scene, these occurrences are nothing new at Mist. Similar instances were reported by police and EMS during the past three summers: At least three women were suspected of being drugged there last summer. A few more instances a year before that. A few more in 2011.

The victims' names are redacted in the reports and attempts to contact them have been unsuccessful. Owner Ed Fitzgerald has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

A manager at Mr. Ed's responded to an in-person inquiry by saying, "My response at this time is no comment." Another employee chimed in, "If you want a statement, the only guy who can talk is the owner and he's not here right now, so you're not going to talk to us."

The Sandusky Register has provided consistently strong reporting on Put-In-Bay police issues, and you should make sure to check out their coverage of Blessing's indictment. The Register spoke with Blessing's attorney, Tom DeBacco, who provided some textbook victim-blaming and generally creepy quotes, like:

"They were seen in public and according to one witness, her lipstick was all over his face," DeBacco said.

And:

"My client has always been a gentleman, that's why a lot of girls like (Blessing)," DeBacco said. "He did not rape that girl. The evidence will show."

Further reading:
Cleveland Scene, July 30: "Roofie Island: A Summer of Reported Druggings and Rapes on Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie's Party Destination"

Sandusky Register, August 29: "Arrest made in alleged roofie rape"

Sandusky Register, July 26: "Mulligan get's 'roofie' rape report"

Sandusky Register, June 27: "Woman unconscious before rape"

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