Unhappy holidays: 2,500 arrested for drunk driving at end of 2014

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Now that the holiday season is over, law enforcement officials have tallied up how many people were arrested for drunk driving in Minnesota between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

The grand total: 2,537 drivers were pulled over as part of the Minnesota State Patrol's enhanced DWI enforcement campaign, the state Department of Public Safety announced Tuesday. That's slightly higher than the 2013 number of 2,453.

A few more interesting facts from the report:

– The highest blood alcohol level recorded during the holiday enforcement period was .45 in a woman arrested in Freeborn County; that's more than five times the legal limit of .08.

The DPS said the woman was found passed out in her car with the engine running, in the driveway of a Minnesota state trooper's house.

“Some might call it unlucky to pass out drunk in the driveway of a trooper, but this woman is very fortunate that she didn’t injure or kill herself or another motorist,” said State Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Tiffani Nielson.

– The day with the most DWI arrests during the holiday season was Dec. 20, when 303 people were pulled over.

– The agencies with the most arrests during that time:

Twin Cities metro area:

  • 168 – State Patrol District 2400 (East Metro)
  • 153 – State Patrol District 2500 (West Metro)
  • 100 – Minneapolis Police Department

Greater Minnesota:

  • 44 – State Patrol District 2100 (Rochester)
  • 43 – State Patrol District 2600 (St. Cloud)
  • 37 – Stearns County Sheriff’s Office

DWI ARRESTS BY YEAR

Overall, drunk driving offenses have been going down for eight straight years, according to the DPS. The number of DWI arrests in all of 2014 – 24,159 – is more than 1,500 fewer than 2013's total of 25,719.

Here's the year-by-year tally:

  • 2014: 24,159
  • 2013: 25,719
  • 2012: 28,418
  • 2011: 29,527
  • 2010: 29,918
  • 2009: 32,756
  • 2008: 35,794
  • 2007: 38,669
  • 2006: 41,951

The number of people who've died in drunk driving accidents has also declined – by more than half – over a 10-year period, from 196 deaths in 2003 to 81 in 2013, according to the agency.

DRUNK DRIVING STILL A PROBLEM

Despite the improving numbers, there are still plenty of people on the roads driving under the influence, the DPS said in a report released in August. According to that report, 11 percent of all Minnesota residents have one or more impaired driving arrests on their record as of 2013.

The five counties with the highest percentages are north and west of the Twin Cities: Mahnomen (22.3 percent); Mille Lacs (17.1 percent); Cass (15.8 percent); Clearwater (15.4 percent); and Aitkin (15.3 percent).

And then there's the case of Danny Lee Bettcher (left), who got out of prison right after Christmas after serving five years on his 27th DWI conviction. The St. Paul Pioneer Press says it appears Bettcher, 61, holds the record for the most drunken driving-related convictions in Minnesota. His first was in the 1980s.

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