DWI will affect trail, boating privileges

Alan Giesenkoetter, Sr. speaks at a press conference.
Alan Giesenkoetter, Sr., said he hoped new stricter DWI laws wouldn't be necessary, and that drivers and recreational vehicle operators would simply stop driving while impaired.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated: 1:37 p.m. | Posted: 9:35 a.m.

A change in Minnesota law will ban people who have a DWI from taking to the state's trails and waterways on boats, snowmobiles and ATVs while their driving privileges are suspended.

That hasn't been the case, as authorities found earlier this year.

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Alan Geisenkoetter, an 8-year-old Wyoming, Minn., boy was killed when a snowmobile driven by 45-year-old Eric Coleman hit Geisenkoetter and his family's ice fishing shelter in January. Coleman had two previous DWI convictions and was facing another charge. But state law didn't prevent him from driving motorized recreational vehicles like snowmobiles, ATVs and boats.

Authorities say Coleman had twice the legal blood alcohol limit when he hit Geisenkoetter on Chisago Lake after dark. He's facing vehicular manslaughter charges for the boy's death.

"He took a boy full of love, full of happiness, full of curiosity and full of wanting to help others without being asked. He took a boy who loved the outdoors. He loved hunting, fishing and biking," said his grandmother, Marybeth Lonnee. "He loved meeting people and learning something from them."

Alan Giesenkoetter
Alan Giesenkoetter's family shared photos of the boy killed by an alleged drunken snowmobiler in January.
Courtesy Photo from Giesenkoetter family

She said she hoped it was a wakeup call to Minnesotans about the dangers of drinking and motor vehicles, "A crime like this demands permanently revoking driving privileges," Lonnee said of Coleman's crash. "He killed a little boy because he has no control over his drug and alcohol addiction. It's just not his problem. He has made it our problem and our sorrow."

State Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch and a sponsor of the legislation, said the incident highlighted state law had a number of loopholes involving recreational vehicles: a road-related DWI didn't block people from recreation vehicles. The new law, which takes effect Aug. 1, also extends the "not one drop" rule for operators under 21 to recreation vehicles. A first time DWI on a recreation vehicle also didn't "count" toward road driving restrictions, Department of Natural Resources officials said. Now it will.

"This legislation makes our roadways, trail systems and waterways much safer here in the state of Minnesota," said Col. Rodmen Smith, head of enforcement for the DNR.

"There is a cultural change in this state moving away from 'Alcohol is not a problem when it comes to when I'm recreating.'" Smith said. "And that's one of the reasons these loopholes existed in the first place, because when DWI laws were starting to form, people said 'No I'm out having fun on my water crafter on my snowmobile and I shouldn't be held to the same standard.' But make no mistake, people see that [those operating] recreational vehicles can kill people just as easily as they can in a minivan or a pickup truck or any other traditional motor vehicle."

Correction (July 31, 2018): Marybeth Lonnee's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.