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In taking impaired drivers off roads, officer says: 'there's only so many people I can stop'

Trooper Kendall LeMay of the Minnesota State Patrol conducts a field sobriety test of a suspected drunk driver ahead of the Labor Day weekend. Last year, LeMay, a five-year veteran with the department arrested more than 100 motorists suspected of DWI, the second most of any law enforcement agent in the state. Youssef Rddad / RiverTown Multimedia

RED WING, Minn. — Between dusk and the twilight hours of dawn, Minnesota State Patrol trooper Kendall LeMay works the graveyard shift covering a large swath of land stretching from the St. Paul to the St. Croix River dividing Wisconsin from Minnesota.

His focus is mainly taking drunken and impaired drivers off the road.

So far this year, he's arrested more than 60 drivers suspected of DWI, the second most of any trooper in the state. Last year, he logged more than 100.

Of the stops that baffle him are when he greets a drunken driver and the person in the passenger seat is sober. The ones that are upsetting are when it's a child.

In Wisconsin, St. Croix County Sheriff's Office deputy Chuck Coleman sees a high number of drunken drivers on the rural roads he patrols. According to the data, St. Croix County counts about 28 percent of its OWI convicts as repeat offenders.

Coleman is well acquainted with the remote roads those drivers take home from bars, thinking they're less likely to encounter a cop.

He catches them as often as he can — not because he gets a thrill out of ruining someone's night, but because of the chance to keep drunken drivers from ruining someone else's.

"That is the ultimate goal, is to protect the general public," he said.

While responding to a minor infraction on a night before Labor Day, LeMay noted several impaired drivers could have passed by while he was tied up. On any given night, he estimates law enforcement is only able to catch a small handful of drunk drivers.

"There's only so many people I can stop," LeMay said.

Some drivers come clean and admit they've been drinking. Others become belligerent — sometimes cursing, spitting or by becoming violent. But most are more upset when law enforcement tows their vehicle, LeMay said.

"They don't care if they're getting arrested for DWI, they care about their car. That's why they drive it and make bad decisions," he said.

Pierce County Sheriff Nancy Hove said it's that flaw in the human condition that puts impaired drivers back behind the wheel, no matter the consequences. Repeat offenders comprise about 28 percent of all drunken driving convictions in Pierce County.

But the solutions to keeping drunken drivers off the road remain elusive.

"Humans are human," Hove said. "No matter how many laws are on the books, if they don't want to abide by them, they won't."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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