DWI: A tale of two states

The man pulled up to the intersection of Concord Street and the on-ramp to 494 eastbound in South St. Paul yesterday afternoon and he stopped. He was looking down and fumbling with something. If he’d looked straight ahead, he’d have seen he had just stopped at a green light.

So I honked and he turned around and looked at me. Even with the distance between our vehicles, I could see he was under the influence of something. I pointed to the green light. He put down whatever he had in his hands, and moved onto I-494, and only occasionally kept his car in his lane as he continued to look down.

He was texting.

I debated calling the cops and, frankly, I should have, as he peeled off to US-61 south. He could kill someone. But, for some, shameful reason, I decided not to. “Why bother?” I thought. In this state where 1 in every 7 drivers has a DWI conviction, the crime is a joke to even the people talking a good game about stopping it.

This week, a Waseca man appears to have clinched his 8th DWI after he drove into a ditch in Blue Earth County, the Star Tribune reported earlier.

A deputy found William Fuller had an overwhelming aroma of alcohol, refused field sobriety testing, and was stumbling and swaying. There were two little kids in the minivan.

He’d already lost his license and now he faces new charges.

The charges are misdemeanors.

Under Minnesota law, five DWIs in 10 years can get you a year in jail, but only 60 days has to be served in a jail or workhouse. The rest can be served with home detention.

And then there’s Texas.

Donald Middleton, 56, may one day wish he lived in Minnesota instead of the Houston area.

He’s been running up DWIs since the Reagan administration and this week — after number 9 — he’s going to prison.

He hit a 16-year old in the latest incident and then tried to hide in a convenience store, the Montgomery County Police Reporter says.

When he picked up his first DWI, Texas law required a $200 fine and 60 days in jail.

But under current Texas law, he could be sentenced as a habitual offender, and get 25 years to life.

This week, a judge, who wasn’t in the mood to joke around, sentenced the man.

He got life.

  • Rob

    “Why bother?” WTF? Bob C., it’s very disconcerting to hear you encountered a guy that was very likely impaired, but that you didn’t drop the dime on him. Our DWI laws may be a joke, but not calling the cops when you see someone who’s driving in an apparently impaired way? Oi

    • If you look at the adjective in that sentence, you’ll see I beat you to it, Bob.

      • Rob

        I just hope your karma doesn’t include being hit by a drunk driver who’d been allowed to continue on by a fellow motorist who thought, “why bother?”

        • Al

          …that’s not a very good-karma thing to say.

          • Rob

            it is what it is

        • I’d be very concerned about that. If I believed there were such a thing.

          • Rob

            ah, beliefs…

        • Postal Customer

          It’s kind of a hassle and there is implied danger of distraction whilst on the phone.

          • Rob

            right. as long as the drunk driver isn’t bearing down on you, it’s all good. we wouldn’t want anyone to be inconvenienced.

  • Al

    I’ve called a few times, but feel weird about calling 911. It’s, like, a not-quite-emergency. Or maybe it is just an emergency.

    Pulling over and trying to find the non-emergency number for the right jurisdiction is surprisingly difficult, though, too.

    • MarkUp

      My downstairs neighbors have had some pretty loud shouting matches in the past. A few months ago I heard one of them screaming “Why won’t anybody help me” and I debated calling 911, fearing things had turned to domestic abuse. It turns out she was screaming over the phone at tech support over her computer crashing. Even knowing this, I’m still not sure if I made the right decision.

      • Someone called the Roseville cops a few months ago because the guy downstairs was screaming.

        • MarkUp

          How did that turn out?
          As a neighbor, should you knock on the door first? Tenants turn over so quickly in an apartment, most people don’t really know each other well enough to make any assumptions.

          • Al

            Given that you might be entering an unstable situation, I’d call first before knocking on their door.

          • He ended up dead because he once gave a false name to a cop.

  • Gary F

    And then you got Sconnie!

    http://www.tmj4.com/news/local-news/man-who-blamed-beer-battered-fish-fry-for-dui-sent-to-prison

    You gotta call the cops when you see impaired driving.

  • KenB

    Unless things have changed for the better in the past few years, Wisconsin doesn’t drop heavy penalties on multiple-incident impaired drivers much either.

    (BTW, Bob, it’s not “an habitual offender” unless you also stay in “an hotel” when you travel.)

  • MikeB

    MN needs a habitual offender law where you lose drinking privileges. After 3 you submit to breath/blood tests, if you fail you spend a lot of time behind bars. Cheaper than going to prison right away.

  • MarkUp

    Part of the problem is that reporting should be a call to 911, and most people won’t register a driver swerving on the road on the same level as a building on fire.

    You can also email a report with the state patrol here:
    https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/msp/contact/pages/report-unsafe-driving.aspx

    But I’m not sure how that report would really work. I think the process is that driver would get a letter with a written warning or ticket from the state patrol essentially saying “someone thought you might be breaking the law the other day” which doesn’t sound like it would hold up in court if the driver contested a ticket.

    It’s definitely an area where we should empower and encourage citizens to speak up.

    • Rob

      speak for yourself. when I see someone weaving down the road, I call 911. the house on fire might be empty, whereas the roads always have other drivers and passengers on them, who are always at risk when drunks are on the road.

      • // I see someone weaving down the road, I call 911

        And you pull over before even thinking about looking at your phone.

        • Postal Customer

          Bluetooth FTW

        • Of course.

        • Rob

          you’re damn right. I do not use my phone at all when I’m driving. it stays in my pocket – unless there’s an emergency I need to /bother/ with.

      • Ben Chorn

        I wish the police would be more responsive in some areas like Montana to drunk driving. I once called the cops (from the passenger seat) as a friend and I were going to play Frisbee golf. 12:30 pm on a Saturday and we got behind a Jeep that could not stay in its lane. Inside was a group of guys pounding back beers. We called the police, followed the jeep, and was told after a good 5-10 minutes that they don’t have any officers available and that if they drove past the police station they would try to flag them down.

        That kind of inaction is why Montana has consistently been one of the worst drunk driving states. The other being the lenient sentences for offenders. Multiple times a year someone would be getting their 10th+ DUI.

  • PaulJ

    This is one of those types of crimes where jail really can be seen to offer basic protection to everyone else and not merely punishment to the offender.

    • Rob

      thank you!

  • Jeff C.

    Thank you, Bob, for having the courage to tell us about something you did that you are ashamed of. We have all made mistakes. I think that learning about a mistake that one person made can help others not make the same one later. Should I ever find myself in the same situation as you were in I hope I will learn from your mistake and call 911.

  • Anna

    Why is it that people have to be permanently maimed or killed by a drunk driver for the offense to be taken as the extreme safety hazard it is?

    Even one alcoholic beverage reduces your reaction time for several hours even when you consume food along with it.

    Too many consumers of alcohol have the “Lay’s potato chip” problem. They can’t stop with just one.

    Put drunk driving together with texting and you have an even deadlier combination.

    If you have the money to drink (Liquid libations are far more expensive now than they were in my college days.), you also have the ability to get a cab and many of them now take credit cards.

    Repeat offenders do us all a favor. Stay off the road when you’re drunk. There are much more efficient ways to kill yourself.