Drunk driving still a problem in Elk River

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

People driving under the influence of alcohol continue to be a persistent problem in Elk River.

Drinking and driving continues to be a problem in Elk River and Sherburne County.
Drinking and driving continues to be a problem in Elk River and Sherburne County.

While the number of DUI cases in Elk River dropped between 2010 and 2011, the number increased last year. There were 147 cases in 2010, 136 in 2011 and 168 last year.

Sherburne County continues to be one of the 13 deadliest counties in Minnesota when it comes to DUIs, according to Sherburne County Attorney Kathy Heaney.

“We need to get the message across to individuals that drinking and driving is not a good choice,” Heaney said in an annual report to the Elk River City Council Tuesday, Feb. 19.

In monetary costs alone, DUIs take a toll. Heaney said the most someone would pay for a taxi is about $150, while the average cost of a first-time DUI is $15,000 to $20,000.

In other statistics, the number of misdemeanor domestic assaults declined in Elk River last year.

Scott Baumgartner, Elk River’s city prosecutor, said a domestic abuse lethality assessment program has been implemented and he’s seen better cooperation from some victims of domestic assault.

Victims now feel they have someplace to turn to, Baumgartner said.

The domestic abuse lethality assessment program began in April 2012, Heaney said. Officers responding to domestics now do a 12-question evaluation to determine the risk to the victim. If it’s a high-risk case, they immediately put the victim in contact with an advocate.

That’s important because the victim is in touch with someone who cares and there’s the opportunity to provide a short-term safety plan until something more formal can be put in place, Heaney said.

She’s been surprised to find that the lethality assessments are also being used by probation and the district court as part of an effort to determine what kind of safety net needs to be put in place to protect society.

Overall, Baumgartner said a total of 363 files involving Elk River cases were opened in 2012. He handles petty misdemeanors, misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors; the county handles felonies.

Heaney complimented the Elk River Police Department on the cases it presents to her office for prosecution, saying they are thoroughly researched which makes it easier for the county attorney’s office to prosecute.

County-wide, Heaney said there was a slight drop in the number of felony case filings in Sherburne County.

“That’s a very positive trend. I don’t know if that trend will continue into 2013,” Heaney said.

When it comes to juvenile crime, Heaney said they continue to struggle with how to deal with the problem of juveniles passing prescription drugs.

She doesn’t think kids always fully realize that if they take their prescription drug and give it to a friend, it’s a crime.

Heaney said they are continuing to try to address the issue through the Safe Schools program, which operates in the Elk River Area School District.