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Tu-Uyen Tran, Published July 27 2013

Father of DUI victim asks ND state senator to resign from office

GRAND FORKS – A man who became an advocate for tougher drunken-driving laws in North Dakota after losing family members to a drunken driver is asking Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River, to step down after Miller pleaded guilty to alcohol-related driving charges.

Lynn Mickelson, of Colfax, said he sent a letter to Miller this month and had not heard from the senator. He then decided to send the same letter to the news media, he said, to reach Miller’s constituents.

“I was very upset and hurt when I saw on the TV newscasts and read the story about your driving-under-the-influence charge – upset and hurt that, after all that our families went through this past legislative session to call attention to and then try to get some stiffer DUI laws enacted, you would make the very poor choice of driving drunk and also with an open container in your vehicle,” the letter said, referencing the loss of Mickelson’s daughter, her husband, their daughter and an unborn child in a 2012 accident.

Miller, who could not be reached for comment, had earlier asked for forgiveness but refused to step down, saying his constituents told him it wasn’t necessary.

“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough,” Mickelson said Saturday. “We hold those people to higher standards.”

An activist

Mickelson’s daughter, Allison Deutscher, 36, of West Fargo, with her husband, Aaron, 34, and daughter Brielle, 18 months, were on their way to visit Aaron’s parents in Bis-marck when they were killed in a head-on collision around 7 p.m. July 6, 2012, on Interstate 94 west of Jamestown.

The other driver, Wyatt Klein, 28, of Jamestown, was also killed. The state Highway Patrol said his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.25 percent, far above the legal limit of 0.08.

“It’s still very fresh in our minds,” Mickelson said Saturday. “I’m thinking back – our tragedy was a fully, 100 percent preventable tragedy.”

The tragedy also galvanized him to seek tougher laws against driving under the influence during this past legislative session. His anger at Klein soon turned to anger at the state’s DUI laws, which failed to keep repeat offenders off the road; Klein had two prior convictions.

Mickelson, and others who have lost loved ones to drunken-driving accidents, including Aaron Deutscher’s father, Tom, lobbied lawmakers and spoke with the press.

The Legislature passed one of two bills calling for tougher DUI penalties, though the one that passed was watered down. The original bill called for a minimum $750 fine and four days in jail for a first-time offender; it was changed to a minimum $500 and two days in jail if blood-alcohol concentration is greater than 0.16.

Setting an example

Mickelson gives Miller credit for supporting both DUI bills, but he said he still can’t get over the fact that Miller is now also a repeat offender.

In 2007, Miller had his first alcohol-related driving incident, after which he pleaded guilty to a reckless driving charge and paid a ticket for having an open container in his car. In June, he had his second incident. He pleaded guilty to speeding, having an open container and being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while over the legal alcohol limit. His BAC was 0.13.

“He could’ve done as much damage as that fella that killed our family,” Mickelson said. “He was out there. He had eight beers.”

At court last week, Miller admitted he had drank eight beers. He said then that he’ll never make the mistake of driving drunk again. “My hope is that everyone can forgive me.”

That’s not good enough for Mickelson. “They can’t enact laws for other people if you don’t follow them yourself,” he said. “That is really not a good example.”

Mickelson said he hopes Miller gets alcohol treatment.

The senator’s term ends in 2016.

Looking to future legislative sessions, Mickelson said he’ll continue to push for even tougher DUI penalties.