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Derrick Lehrke

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Cottage Grove City Council member charged in high-speed incident

  • Article by: Kevin Giles
  • Star Tribune
  • September 4, 2014 - 11:24 PM

A Cottage Grove City Council member accused of driving 110 miles per hour and swerving on a Washington County highway was charged Thursday with careless driving and two counts of speeding.

Derrick Lehrke, who is seeking re-election this fall to a second term, was stopped early on the morning of July 30 by Cottage Grove police officer David Liermann on Hwy. 61, according to the complaint.

“I appreciate that you’re doing your job, but I would just rather go home if I can,” Lehrke told the officer in a traffic stop video made available Thursday by Cottage Grove police.

Lehrke, 35, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The car he was driving was registered to Lehrke’s wife, Autumn, who chairs the Washington County Board and the Red Rock Corridor Commission, a regional transit planning team.

Autumn Lehrke, who is also seeking re-election to a second term this fall, was not charged.

She was riding in the passenger seat and told the officer that her husband hadn’t been drinking, although he later tested at a 0.06 percent alcohol concentration, the complaint said. That’s below Minnesota’s legal limit for drunken driving, which is 0.08 percent.

Radar initially clocked the Lehr­kes’ car at 80 mph, but it gained speed as the officer “was attempting to catch up to the vehicle,” the charges said.

The car swerved at least three times from the centerline of Hwy. 61 to the shoulder, Liermann wrote in his report. The officer’s squad car hit a speed of 117 mph before he activated his emergency lights. According to the charges, Lehrke slowed briefly and then speeded up for about a quarter mile before he pulled over.

Once stopped, Lehrke told the officer, “I did not realize I was going that fast,” and handed his wife’s driver’s license to the officer, the charges said. He eventually produced his own license.

“Officer Liermann noticed an odor of an alcoholic beverage coming [from] the vehicle and he noticed that the defendant’s wife, Autumn, was intoxicated,” the charges said.

She said that she had been drinking and told the officer her husband hadn’t done so.

“Well, he wasn’t, it was me who had been drinking. That’s why you smell the alcohol coming from the car,” Autumn Lehrke told Liermann, according to the charges.

The Cottage Grove police officer called for a state trooper when he recognized that Derrick Lehrke was a local elected official. Sgt. Chad Koehler arrested Lehrke and took him to the Washington County jail in Stillwater, where he submitted to a breath test that determined he was within legal limits, the charges said.

Charges were filed by St. Paul Park City Attorney James Shiely, who took the case to avoid a conflict of interest in Cottage Grove.

The Lehrkes said they were returning home from the Newport bar they own, Opinion Brewery. Last fall, the couple were criticized by several public officials who said the bar’s proximity to a new county transit center made the purchase a conflict of interest for Autumn Lehrke in her role as a county commissioner. The bar also sits within a redevelopment zone under study for public-funded improvements.

Autumn Lehrke has denied a conflict of interest and said that she and her husband were simply entrepreneurs looking to buy a bar when the Red Rock Saloon, as it was named then, came on the market.

Careless driving is a misdemeanor. The first count of speeding, a petty misdemeanor, involves probable danger to people or property. The second count, a misdemeanor, involves traveling faster than the posted 65 mph speed limit.

Lehrke was charged by summons warrant. No date has been set for his first appearance in Washington County District Court. He has several driving-related convictions on his record in Washington, Scott and Goodhue counties.

 

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037

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