Snowmobile accident inspires new Minnesota DWI law

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ST. PAUL — The death of an 8-year-old boy who was struck by a snowmobile spurred Minnesota legislators to advance a bill that would make drunk driving an offense no matter the vehicle being operated.

The House transportation committee approved a bill to allow for DWI convictions whether they’re on the road, trails or snow. The bill would limit someone with a drunken driving offense issued while operating a car from operating other vehicles, such as a snowmobile.

There’s currently a loophole, said Republican Rep. Anne Neu of North Branch.

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“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.”

Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. suffered severe brain damage and died in January after he was struck on Chisago Lake. The snowmobile’s driver, Eric Coleman, was intoxicated and has a history of drunk driving and license revocations, prosecutors said. Coleman had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit for driving, authorities said. He now faces murder charges.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association support the bill. The snowmobilers association has long been against intoxicated riding, said Doug Franzen, a lobbyist for the group.

“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.