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Judge sends eight-time drunk driver to prison

A history of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated led to a 31?2-year prison sentence for a Minnesota man who drove while drunk in Douglas County.

Ernest Donald Drift Jr., 47, was sentenced Friday in Douglas County Circuit Court for operating a motor vehicle Aug. 7 while under the influence for the eighth time. He pleaded no contest to the charge in November.

Judge Michael Lucci Friday ordered Drift to spend 18 months initial confinement in Wisconsin State Prison with an additional 24 months of extended supervision. Conditions of extended supervision include undergoing a chemical dependency evaluation, maintaining absolute sobriety, not entering any establishment where the primary business is the sale of alcohol, providing a DNA sample and paying a $600 fine.

"It's rare this court sees this kind of case," Lucci said, noting that in Wisconsin, anything over a fifth offense operating intoxicated is considered a felony.

Drift, who represented himself, argued for an imposed and stayed jail sentence and inpatient treatment.

"I accept responsibility for this," he told Lucci. "I just want to ask the court to allow me to go to treatment ... to try to straighten my life up."

Drift said he served two years in prison for each of the past three offenses and had not been given the opportunity for inpatient treatment since 1983.

The Minnesota man has a substantial criminal history that includes offenses unrelated to drinking and driving, including a robbery conviction, Lucci noted. The judge also commented that the bulk of that criminal history took place prior to 2000, that Drift was well-educated and that he has steady employment with a masonry company.

"I understand alcohol is probably at the root of all these crimes," Lucci said, but he found it hard to believe Drift had found no opportunity to get treatment at age 47.

"It's available to you if you pursue it," the judge said.

Assistant District Attorney Kelly Thimm requested a four-year prison sentence.

"He's been on parole before; he's been in prison before," he argued. "At some point there's no other option."

Thimm pointed out that Drift was recently arrested on two felony charges in Saint Louis County "at a time when he is supposed to be on his best behavior" prior to the Douglas County sentencing.

Lucci said the Minnesota man should be able to get treatment for his alcohol addiction while under extended supervision.

"I don't want to see you back in the system again," he told Drift.

Maria Lockwood is available at mlockwood@superiortele or call (715) 395-5025.