New law will spare other Minnesota families a grief like ours

Mark Ritchie
Mark Ritchie is Minnesota's Secretary of State.
Photo courtesy of the Secretary of State's office

I recently stood with the governor and other leaders to celebrate passage of an ignition interlock law in Minnesota.

This law helps protect the public by restricting driving privileges for people convicted multiple times of driving under the influence and first-time offenders with over twice the legal blood alcohol limit.

Now they will be allowed to drive their vehicles only if they pay to install an ignition interlock device that prevents their engines from starting if it detects any alcohol in their bloodstream.

For me it was a day of mixed emotions.

I was thrilled to see that Minnesota was taking an important next step toward keeping more drunk drivers off our roads and saving lives. But the occasion was a painful reminder of the loss of my only child, Rachel.

She might still be alive today if a young man who was too drunk to even remember where he had been drinking had not driven on the wrong side of the Mendota Bridge on a November Saturday night 10 years ago.

As I stood there in the governor's reception room for the bill signing ceremony, I flashed back to that terrible event and the 24 hours of hoping, praying and then letting go that followed. The memories are still vivid.

I thought of the people who helped my wife Nancy and me through this crisis, starting with the Minnesota Highway Patrol officer who sat with us when we first arrived at Hennepin County Medical Center. He expressed his deep concern for Rachel and helped us find the strength to prepare for the hard decisions that lay ahead for us.

Months later at the drunk driver's trial, this same officer brought an entire group of newly commissioned patrol officers to court. He told me later that he had wanted to show these new officers the enormous tragedy and grief they could help prevent through their day-to-day work of keeping our roads safe.

I thought of the EMTs who struggled to free Rachel from the smashed minivan; the nurses and doctors at HCMC who tried to save her life; and the counselor from LifeSource who discussed organ donation as a potential gift of life for others. Their actions and words assured us that everything had been done to save our daughter. In the end, it was not possible to save Rachel, but her ultimate gift of a strong, loving heart saved the life of a 16-year-old girl and brought joy to her family. Others also benefited from Rachel's donations.

I miss Rachel every day. Some days are more painful than others. Every Father's Day there is a part of me that is just sad and longs for my girl. But I think of those who helped my family through that tragic night and I appreciate what they and others do to help other families face other tragedies.

We have much more to do to keep our loved ones safe from drunk drivers. We should work to strengthen drunk driving laws. But for now, I want to thank everyone who helped pass this legislation.

This law cannot bring back Rachel, but it will save lives and protect many families from the grief and suffering that comes from senseless loss. Perhaps equally important, it will protect individuals from ruining their own lives and making the deadly mistake of driving drunk.


Mark Ritchie is Minnesota's secretary of state. This article is adapted from one that appeared in The Traffic Report, a publication of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

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