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Published August 13 2012

DUI crackdown dedicated to West Fargo family killed in crash

MOORHEAD – After receiving the devastating word that his pregnant sister and her family were killed by a drunken driver, Eric “Festus” Mickelson had to break the news to his own family, including his 8-year-old son, Colton.

The boy knew that his aunt, Allison Deutscher, was expecting.

“And the first words out of his mouth was, ‘You mean I’m never gonna be able to meet my new cousin?’ ” Mickelson said.

“I’m very proud of my son for thinking that way,” he added. “Unfortunately, those people that do drink and drive don’t think that. The only thing they think about is, you know, ‘If I get caught, I’m going to get a fine.’ They don’t think about the effect that they have on everybody else’s lives.”

On Monday, Mickelson and other members of Deutscher’s immediate family put a face to the potentially tragic consequences of drinking and driving as local and state authorities kicked off a DUI enforcement campaign dedicated to the deceased family from West Fargo.

“This tragic accident that took our families was 100 percent avoidable, 100 percent preventable,” said Lynn Mickelson, father of Allison Deutscher, 36, who along with her husband, Aaron Deutscher, 34, and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, died in a July 6 crash on Interstate 94 west of Jamestown, N.D.

The national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign begins Friday and runs through Labor Day weekend. Agencies will staff extra patrols to target impaired drivers.

Last year, 136 Minnesotans and 66 North Dakotans died in alcohol-related crashes, according to the Safe Communities Coalition of the Red River Valley. Thirty-seven percent of Minnesota’s traffic fatalities were alcohol-related last year, State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow said.

“I praise the family for having the courage to come forward and talk during this very difficult time,” he said, as I-94 traffic whizzed by after Monday’s press conference at the Moorhead truck weighing station. “And hopefully this message rings in the ears of a few more people who were going to make bad choices.”

North Dakota Highway Patrol Capt. Bryan Niewind said authorities removed 6,600 drunken drivers from the state’s roadways last year.

“I know countless of those, we prevented a crash from happening, people getting hurt and people getting killed, and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said, vowing to redouble efforts in 2012 “so we can prevent the tragedies that the Mickelson family had to go through.”

Lynn Mickelson, who clutched a large picture of Brielle during Monday’s event, called for stiffer penalties for DUI offenders and more educational opportunities not only for drivers but also bar owners, bartenders and servers, who he said should know the warning signs “of when to say ‘no.’ ”

The wrong-way driver who crashed head-on into the Deutschers had been drinking in two bars before the crash and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.25 percent, according to the Highway Patrol’s report.

Allison Deutscher’s sister, Sarah Johnson, said she was “thrilled” about the campaign. She said she also supports stiffer penalties, including jail time for first-time DUI offenders.

“We want to get the word out that drinking and driving won’t be tolerated and changes need to be made,” she said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528