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Detroit Lakes Police Officer Gary Kuhn "pulls over" Detroit Lakes Sports Editor Brian Wierima in a mock traffic stop. DETROIT LAKES NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Long dark journey to DWI: Reporter takes a mock trip through the process

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The process is long, expensive and will not only take a load of money out of your wallet, but also pull your self-esteem down to rock bottom.

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It’s a humbling process that brings pain to your family and causes mental stress for an extended period of time. 

Don’t expect any sympathy, either, because it’s a Scarlet Letter that comes courtesy of your imprudence.

That’s exactly how lawmakers designed you to feel and be punished for driving under the influence of alcohol — and a lot of Minnesotans have been through it.

There were 29,832 DWI arrests in Minnesota last year, with North Dakota registering 4,003 such arrests.

It’s common to hear or read about how much a DWI can cost you financially — the state of Minnesota even puts it on billboards — with plenty of broad numbers bandied around like $10,000 or $15,000.

But every case is different financially, depending on your record, the degree (or seriousness) of the DWI and a whole bunch of other things that go into being charged with one.

But one thing is common, and that’s the emotional toll and the major inconveniences that a DWI brings.

There have been countless articles, educational pieces and other information distributed on the dangers of drinking and driving.

The numbers are usually broad and the details of what the DWI process involves are usually vague.

That’s why this series will focus on the details — from the time you sit down on the barstool to the time you spend standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, reapplying for your driver’s license.

I am going through the hypothetical process of getting a DWI step-by-step, and will be tallying up a checklist of the costs — from my bar tab to paying to get my car out of the impound lot; from my lawyer’s fees to the court fine.

I’ll also share my mental state while walking the dark path of getting a DWI.

It’s a hypothetical journey I am taking, but one too real for many people. Thanks to the DLPD, Becker County Sheriff’s Office, DL Attorney Simon George, District Judge Joe Evans and a host of other people who helped in making my path of going through a DUI as realistic as possible.

Although obviously I didn’t drink first, the other steps of going through a DWI were real —I actually was pulled over, and went through the sobriety testing and booking.

Hopefully, it will bring the unfortunate details of getting a DWI to those who have never experienced one.

A deterrent? Maybe. But knowledge is better than ignorance.

The process starts now.

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 1 p.m. – The Pullover

Another Detroit Lakes Tribune sports section out, home chores done and time to take in a Hump Day relaxation therapy.

I’m sitting here on a buddy’s bar stool, watching some SportsCenter, dipping into a 12-pack of Bud Light. 

Cost: $11.30 for 12-pack of beer.

I realize the first four (or five) went down smoothly, reach for number…forgot, whatever … crack!

After losing count of how many beers actually went down and another awful segment about the NFL’s week 15 concludes, the sun becomes a glowing red globe through the window. A shot (or two) of Jägermeister to top off the visit with my buddy and it’s time to take off … OK, three shots of Jag works better.

Time to head for home, and I jump in my car and take a left down Washington Avenue. But little do I know I have picked up a follower.

Just as I was passing Lakeside Tavern, a cornucopia of lights blast my visuals, filling my car up with flashing blues, whites and reds.

That feeling of dread and my heart dropping to my ankles … that’s about the feeling I am having now.

By now, the numerous cans of beer I have ingested is starting to hit. The buzz is definitely taking effect, even though I think I am “scared sober” by the lights on my tail end.

I pull over on the right side of the road, still hoping those lights are not for me. But the tingling feeling in my gut grows into fear pangs as the cop car pulls behind me, blasting white light fully inside my darkening car – and mood.

According to a blood alcohol content chart, which is an average measurement for men and women according to height and weight, after six beers at my weight of 168 pounds, I will have an estimated blood alcohol content of .09 percent.

Still over the legal limit of .08 percent, and the chart doesn’t take into consideration your experience, whether you ate before you started drinking, and various other elements. 

Add in the three (or four) shots of Jag, which has more concentrated alcohol, and that number goes up.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I tell myself. “No way am I drunk.”

I grab my wallet, as I unhook my seat belt and roll down the window, hoping the brisk breeze will help eliminate any alcohol odor from my mouth.

Detroit Lakes Police Department officer Gary  Kuhn walks up to the driver’s side with his flashlight.

“Good evening sir, can you place your hands on the steering wheel, where I can see them?”

“Yes, sir … no problem,” I reply, already feeling the anxiety of what is coming.

“How you doing tonight?”

“Doing fine…”

“That’s good. The reason I stopped you, is I noticed you crossed the middle lines near M&H. Where are you heading to tonight?”

According to Kuhn, officers look for certain indicators if a person has been drinking and driving.

“With any stop of a vehicle, we are looking at speed, signals, braking,” Kuhn said. “We look for if the driver is extremely cautious or driving slow, or weaving or hitting the center line.”

“Heading home is all…”

“Good deal. You have your insurance on you?”

“That I do.”

“Whose vehicle is this car registered under?”

“This is mine…”

“You have your license on you?”

“Yes, yes I do.”

I’m already feeling my fat tongue trying to get the words out.

Officer Kuhn takes my license and takes a once look over of it.

“How is your driving record, Brian?

“It’s pretty clean, pretty clean.”

“Stay here and I will run your license.”

“Ok … sounds good.”

Kuhn added that officers make a mental checklist of indications that the driver has been drinking.

“We will watch for drivers’ reactions, if there is slowed or a delayed reaction when we are asking for their license or if they are fumbling it when handing it to us.

“Eyes are also a good indicator, like if they are bloodshot. Another sign is their speech is slurred, slow and deliberate. Odor of alcohol in the vehicle is another indicator.”

The waiting is almost unbearable now. I am already second-guessing myself that I should have done other activities instead of going for a few drinks. That quiet time reading a book at the coffee shop is looking better and better every second now.

I also noticed all the passers-by who are gawking at the sight. “Not cool,” I tell myself.

“Where did you say you were coming from tonight, Brian?”

“I, I was coming from a friend’s house.”

“Have you had anything to drink tonight?”

Thinking it’s a trick question (overthinking is dangerous), I say yes, just a couple.

“How much have you had to drink tonight?”

“I guess just a couple … I feel fine.”

That answer is the most common, according to Kuhn.

“Yeah, it’s usually, ‘I had two or three’ or they say they didn’t have any,” Kuhn said.

“When was last time you had a sip or drink last?”

“Ohhhh …. maybe 20-25 minutes, I guess.”

“How many did you have again?”

“Hmmmm … I suppose 2 or 3, at the most, I guess.”

This makes me more nervous, since I wasn’t 100 percent sure how I answered the first time Officer Kuhn asked. Oh, boy.

“How you feeling now? You feel you like you are fine to be driving?”

“Yeah, yeah … I am feeling pretty good, safe enough to be driving. Definitely feel I can.”

The nerves are making me babble … yeah, this situation is getting out of control.

“Can you please shut off your car and step out of the vehicle?”

My heart sinks a mile a minute at this comment. I still am clinging to hope I can make it out of this. I keep a straight face.

“Sure, sure.”

“Please stand off to the side, out of traffic — we’ll go over to the parking lot where there’s less snow.

“What we are going to do now is, I want you to stand straight, with your arms at your sides. Now, keep your head still and follow my finger.”

The National Highway Safety Association has set up a battery of tests … three tests: the walk and turn test, the one leg stand test and the horizontal gaze and standing test.

“There is a probability of around 78 percent chance if they fail, they are past the .08 mark,” Kuhn said. “Total those three together, there is over a 90 percent chance if they have failed these tests, that the driver is impaired.”

The adrenaline makes me shake, as I stumble more than several times throughout every test. But there is still that one last chance of passing the breathalyzer, which I know is coming.

“OK, Brian, I am going to give you a breathalyzer test, are you willing to do one?”

“No problem,” I say, without much conviction.

Officer Kuhn directs me to blow hard into the straw.

Done.

He shows me the results: .21 percent.

I take a deep breath, as Officer Kuhn tells me he is placing me under arrest under the suspicion of driving while impaired.

He asks me if I have any weapons or sharp objects in my pockets and places my hands behind my back and slaps on the handcuffs.

The clicking of the cuffs is a disturbing sound when they’re on your wrists and I duck into the backseat of Officer’s Kuhn’s car.

“We will try and make arrangements to move the vehicle if not safe where it is,” Kuhn said. “If not, the vehicle will be impounded. Then it’s standard we tell you’re under arrest for suspicion of DWI and explain why they are there and have right to speak with attorney. But they can’t delay for hours and hours, hoping the alcohol content goes down, it needs to be in a reasonable time.

The PBT (portable breathalyzer test) is not admissible in court, but it is a tool in which to help the officer to determine if the driver is impaired and place them under arrest for further testing.

From when I sat down and opened my first beer to being cuffed and stuffed into Officer Kuhn’s car, only about four and a half hours have gone by.

As Officer Kuhn drives towards the Becker County Jail for booking and official testing, it’s enough time for me to swallow the bitter pill – I am going to jail.

Even though I have no idea what is coming, I know it will be miserable.

In what took a measly four and a half hours to conceive, what comes next will take well over a year and affect me in many ways.

It will be my first offense, but those several shots of Jag will cost me much more than the few tilts of the head it took to drink them, as I will soon find out.

My passage through the justice system is just getting started, as Officer Kuhn will hand me off to staff at the Becker County Corrections office and booking.

Next week, the sticker shock of a night of drinking will start adding up, but also the stigma of wearing the colors of a criminal will take a toll on an already demoralized sports editor.

Join me as we take the next step of being charged with a DWI: The Booking.

Follow us on Twitter @DLNewspapers

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Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN. 
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