Smashed: The toll of driving drunk in Minnesota

One face, one case: Phillip Jonathan Riveness

  • Article by: JANE FRIEDMANN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2010 - 4:57 PM

Latest incident: About 1 a.m. on Dec. 15 on Interstate 35W in Roseville.

Phillip Jonathan Riveness, a former DFL state legislator, pleaded guilty last month to drunken driving after downing too much wine on his 62nd birthday and driving the wrong way on I-35W in Roseville.

Riveness narrowly avoided crashing into several vehicles as police chased him at more than 70 miles per hour, according to the criminal complaint. A Roseville police officer managed to stop Riveness by performing a rarely used maneuver, nudging the side of the speeding vehicle with his squad car, causing it to spin and come to a rest against a guardrail.

Riveness told police he drank four or five glasses of wine at a friend's house in St. Paul. Riveness, who lives in south Minneapolis, told police he didn't realize he'd missed his exit until he was in Minnetonka. He told police he didn't know how he ended up in Roseville. A breath test showed his blood-alcohol level at 0.267 percent, more than three times the legal limit.

Riveness spent 12 years in the Legislature, leaving in 1997 as a state senator from Bloomington. He served on the Metropolitan Council from 1999 to 2003.

Status: Riveness pleaded guilty to fourth-degree DWI, a gross misdemeanor. A felony charge of fleeing police was dismissed. He was sentenced to one year in jail, but must serve only 15 days if he meets conditions of his two-year probation. He must pay at least $181 in fines and court costs and follow the recommendations of a chemical dependency evaluation.

History: Riveness was convicted of drunken driving shortly after leaving the Legislature in 1997. His 60-day jail sentence was reduced to four days. He also had to perform 32 hours of community service, attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Impact Panel and pay $472 in fines and court costs.


  • about this series

  • In Minnesota, drunken drivers who kill someone with their car sometimes get less time behind bars than nonviolent offenders. Public safety advocates say it's part of a culture of forgiveness surrounding drunken driving, a social problem that killed 893 people on Minnesota roads in the past five years. Read the Star Tribune's in-depth look at the scourge of drunken driving, the victims it claims and the public safety questions it raises.
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  • Phillip Jonathan Riveness


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