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More than half of Ozaukee County drunk drivers are repeat offenders

Posted at 7:25 AM, Jul 25, 2019

More than half of the drunk drivers convicted in Ozaukee County for much of the last decade already had a prior OWI.

County officials say they believe the numbers reflect their approach to patrolling and prosecuting drunk driving in the state.

“It means that we're probably doing some good enforcement,” said Sheriff Jim Johnson.

“We have good police officers, we have law enforcement and they’re pulling people over, they're investigating these cases and they're arresting people,” said Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol.

According to numbers from the Department of Transportation, in 2017 53 percent of convicted drunk drivers were repeat offenders which was the second highest rate in the state. In 10 percent of those cases, it was a fourth offense or higher.

In 2013, 57 percent of OWI convictions were a second or subsequent offense, leading all Wisconsin counties that year.

Twelve-year veteran Ozaukee County Sheriff Deputy Michael Schmidt says much of the drunk drivers are caught on I-43, which runs through the heart of the county.

With a decade on patrol, he’s seen it all.

“Had one on third shift that almost went head on with me,” Schmidt said. “Turned around and they were intoxicated. First you have to realize, 'Whoa, that was a close one,' then try to bring it back down from almost crashed to 'Now I gotta go back and do this job'.”

Sometimes the drivers they catch shouldn’t have been on the road in the first place.

“I’ve stopped people where their OWIs pending in different counties or even in Ozaukee County,” Schmid said. “They just haven’t gone through the court process. So now they're on their second or third but they have one or two pending yet.”

While the rate of repeat drunk drivers is high, the county’s overall total of drunk driving convictions ranks in the middle of the pack.

Since 2011, Ozaukee County has convicted between 150 and 200 drunk drivers each year.

No matter the math, it’s an issue that still frustrates county authorities.

“There’s a certain uselessness, there’s just a certain feeling or waste and stupidity when you're looking at this victim, and everything's been taken away from this person,” said Gerol. “Their life, their hopes and their dreams, it's all over and then you look at this person, and it was all caused because somebody was an irresponsible idiot.”