Snowmobile accident that killed MN boy could inspire new DWI law

A snowmobile accident that killed an 8-year-old Chisago City boy is driving consideration of a Minnesota bill to come down harder on people who drive drunk no matter what vehicle they’re operating.

A House transportation committee signed off on a bill that links up DWI convictions whether they’re on the road, trails or snow. If enacted, it would mean that a drunk driving offense in a car would affect someone’s ability to legally operate a snowmobile. Currently, there’s a loophole, said Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch.

Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. died in January after he suffered severe brain damage. He was struck on Chisago Lake by a snowmobile operated by Eric Coleman, who had a history of drunken driving and license revocations. There was a DWI pending charge against him as well.

Coleman faces murder charges. Authorities say he had a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit for driving when he hit the boy.

Neu said people with automobile DWI convictions should be barred from operating ATVs and snowmobiles just as they would a car for a certain period of time.

“It’s silly to think that for some reason there should be stiffer penalties for a DWI in a car than there are in an ATV or a snowmobile,” she said. They are certainly deadly machines. They are certainly capable of destruction, just like a car is.”

Neu’s bill has the support of the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association.

Because there is no way to require ignition interlock devices on snowmobiles as is done in automobiles for some DWI offenders, Neu acknowledges that awareness efforts are also key.

Doug Franzen, a lobbyist for the snowmobilers group, said his association has long discouraged intoxicated riding and puts up billboards in the winter reading “Ride Sober, Ride Safe.”

“We say this is really not a snowmobile issue,” Franzen said. “This is an issue with people’s attitudes regarding drinking. This is an issue of addiction. It’s a terrible tragedy. The fact this fellow was on a snowmobile was probably to avoid an interlock device on his automobile.”