The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 29, 2013

Court: fake fire drill justified drunken driving arrest

Drunken driver appealed after judge denied motion to suppress evidence

By Dan Nienaber dnienaber@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — She drove after she drank, then pulled a prank and the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled she deserved a trip to the tank.

It probably seemed like a funny idea at the time. Ashley Kay Holdgrafer, 23, and some friends were stopped at a stop light in Mankato on Oct. 30, 2011. They apparently decided 2:30 a.m. was a good time for a prank. Mankato police officer Dale Stoltman was there to watch the silliness.

“The officer saw several persons exit the vehicle,” said a ruling released by the Court of Appeals earlier this week. “The officer later testified that they ‘kind of rotated around the vehicle and got in — what’s commonly referred to as a Chinese fire drill.’

“One of the persons who exited the vehicle ‘took off running’ after seeing the officer Stoltman. The other persons re-entered the vehicle, which then proceeded to travel forward through the intersection.”

Stoltman’s reaction, of course, was to pull the car over. He quickly suspected Holdgrafer had been drinking because she smelled like booze, had glassy eyes and “an unsteady gait.” A preliminary breath test showed she had a blood-alcohol concentration of .13, which is above the legal limit of .08 for driving in Minnesota.

It was early on a Sunday morning and Holdgrafer admitted to drinking at a Halloween Party that started the night before. She agreed to a blood test. She was taken to jail for booking after it showed her BAC was .11, still over the legal limit.

After being charged with drunken driving, her attorney filed a motion asking District Court Judge Krista Jass to suppress all of the evidence from the stop. Holdgrafer’s attorney argued that Stoltman didn’t have reasonable suspicion to stop the the car.

Jass denied the motion and Holdgrafer was found guilty when she went to trial in July 2012. A 30-day jail sentence was stayed. She was fined $500, ordered to complete a chemical dependency evaluation and attend a Mothers Against Drunk Drivers impact panel.

Holdgrafer appealed her case, challenging Jass’ decision to allow the evidence from the stop to be used at trial.

Stoltman’s report about the incident said he stopped Holdgrafer because she had violated the law by impeding traffic. He testified at trial that he had to wait 15 to 20 seconds after the stoplight turned green before he could move forward.

Holdgrafer’s appeal argued that she hadn’t violated the law. It said Stoltman could have driven around Holdgrafer or let her know she was impeding traffic by honking his horn. In it’s usual, straight forward way, the appeals court ruling written by Chief Judge Matthew Johnson said Jass’ decision shouldn’t be overturned.

“In sum, given the totality of the circumstances, officer Stoltzman had reasonable suspicion to stop Holdgrafer’s vehicle after he observed her and her companions impeding traffic at 2:30 in the morning on a Halloween weekend,” Johnson said.

Holdgrafer could not be reached for comment.