Man Locked in Beer Cooler: Drinks, Drives. Wisconsin, Right?

beer-cooler-brings-wisconsin-owi-arrestHe was ordered by a judge to stay sober. But not long ago a man from Marshfield, Wisconsin ignored that order and ducked into a convenience store right before midnight, when beer sales stop. He slipped into the cooler just before it automatically locked.

The man, Jeremy Van Ert, did the obvious thing, or at least, the obvious thing if you’re in Wisconsin: he drank beer. To keep up his stamina he also drank energy drinks. When he was rescued six hours later, Van Ert fled without paying. Eventually he underwent a Wisconsin OWI arrest.

The charges had more to do with the fact that he was driving than anything else:

  • Operating while revoked
  • Operating while intoxicated
  • Failing to install an ignition interlock

Parts of this story have Wisconsin written all over it. The state is notorious for its drinking culture, and so it’s a likely location for someone to prefer the company of beer for 6 hours to knocking on a door and asking to be let out.

It’s also a notorious state for drunk driving – Wisconsin doesn’t even criminalize a first OWI arrest – it’s merely a ticketing offense unless the blood alcohol level is high.

But one part of the story reflects a widespread problem.

Where Was the Ignition Interlock?

The offender in this case had been ordered to install an ignition interlock after a previous offense, and did not. Ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are the most effective measure against drunk driving in use today. Had Van Ert had an interlock, he wouldn’t have been able to drive after his six-hour refrigerated drinking session.

It’s not enough to order the installation of the devices: the state needs to ensure that they are installed. In cases where probation is involved, a probation officer should view the installation certificate or else the offender goes to jail.

Wisconsin should view the interlock requirement from the point of view of public safety rather than just law enforcement. Doing so might help the state shed its reputation as a haven for drunk drivers.

We’d be cool with that.