Carlton County attorney charged with DWI, open bottleCounty Attorney Thom Pertler is charged with refusal to submit to a chemical test, fourth-degree driving while impaired, speeding, driving over the center line, failure to signal, possession of an open bottle and no proof of insurance.
By: Mark Stodghill, Duluth News Tribune
A confused Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler attempted to hide an almost empty bottle of vodka under his car seat and told the State Patrol trooper arresting him that he thought he was driving on Highway 53 from his Cloquet home to Menards in Hermantown when he was stopped at 61st Avenue East and London Road in Duluth during the noon hour Tuesday.
That information was contained in the trooper’s report supporting a criminal complaint charging Pertler with seven crimes Wednesday in State District Court. The man whose job includes the prosecution of drunk drivers is charged with refusal to submit to a chemical test, fourth-degree driving while impaired, speeding, driving over the center line, failure to signal, possession of an open bottle and no proof of insurance.
A preliminary breath test just after 12:30 p.m., indicated that Pertler had a blood alcohol content of .234, nearly three times the legal limit to drive.
Judge Heather Sweetland found that there was probable cause to charge the crimes Wednesday and set bail at $3,000. The court also referred Pertler to supervised release for the purpose of getting a chemical dependency evaluation and possible treatment.
Pertler, 48, joined the Carlton County Attorney’s Office in 1995 and has been the county attorney since 2005. He was held overnight in the St. Louis County Jail and bailed out at about noon on Wednesday.
A secretary in Pertler’s office said that he wasn’t in Wednesday afternoon. He didn’t return a reporter’s voice message left on his personal cell phone seeking comment.
Duluth city prosecutor Cary Schmies said no date has yet been set for Pertler’s next hearing.
At 12:29 p.m. Tuesday, the State Patrol received a report of a gray Chevrolet sedan swerving over the lane lines on Highway 61 near Knife River. Another similar call was received as the trooper traveled to intercept Pertler’s 2010 grey Chevrolet.
The trooper spotted Pertler at Highway 61 and 71st Avenue East. He clocked the defendant traveling 51 mph in a 40 mph zone, and observed him make multiple lane changes without signaling.
The trooper said that Pertler had the odor of an alcoholic beverage, bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech. He said he was swaying and exhibited numerous other signs of drunkenness during several field sobriety tests, while not fully cooperating.
After being placed under arrest and advised of his right to speak to an attorney, Pertler refused to provide a valid intoxilizer test. The trooper wrote in his report that Pertler provided 47 weak breaths of air and stopped blowing when the volume on the intoxilizer would go up. The trooper said he offered Pertler to take the test again, but the defendant said he was done testing.
Pertler told the trooper that he believed he was on Highway 53 and that he was going to Menards in Hermantown from his home in Cloquet to get paint. He also said that he thought he was going to Duluth from Duluth. When asked how much he had to drink that day, Pertler allegedly told the trooper “not as much as you think.” The county attorney would not answer any other questions about his drinking, the trooper said.
An almost empty 375 ml bottle of Taaka vodka was initially seen by the trooper lying on the front seat. The trooper than saw that it was missing. He asked Pertler what happened to it. Pertler said it was under the front seat. When asked why he put it there, Pertler said, “cause.”
Julie Hesse of Morris, Minn., and her five sisters were returning in two vehicles from a family outing in the Schroeder area on Tuesday when they spotted the Pertler vehicle being driven erratically. Hesse said she was driving and she gave one of her sisters her phone to make the call to 911. She was connected to the State Patrol and provided Pertler’s license plate number.
“I followed him for about two miles and he was weaving back and forth so much I didn’t know if I should pass or not,’’ Hesse said when reached by phone Wednesday night. “Finally, I said to my sisters in the car, ‘Wish me luck, I’m going to pass him.’
“We didn’t know if he was drunk, or had medical issues, but we needed to get him off the road.”