It is bar closing on a recent Saturday and metro area roads are alive, buzzing with traffic. State trooper Andrew Martinek is eyeing drivers' every move.
Martinek is watching for drunken drivers, and he finds one when a Buick Rendezvous darting in and out of traffic whizzes past him at 83 miles per hour in the Interstate 94 construction zone in downtown Minneapolis. Excessive speed and erratic driving are telltale signs of an intoxicated motorist, Martinek said.
"It's hard to multitask when you are drunk," he said. "That is what you are doing when operating a motor vehicle."
With probable cause established, Martinek pulls the Buick over, and his suspicions are confirmed. There is a strong odor of alcohol and the driver's eyes are glassy. The driver fails three roadside coordination and balance exercises, so Martinek administers a breath test. The driver registers a .095 percent blood-alcohol content, well above the legal driving limit of .08 percent, and is taken to jail.
For Martinek, one of the patrol's most prolific DWI enforcers, it is his 70th DWI arrest of the year.
"I'm passionate about this," said Martinek, who was named a 2017 DWI All-Star Enforcer by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "I can prevent somebody from being hurt or killed. Preventing drunken driving crashes is part of protecting the people. We need to get these people off the road."
Over the next two weeks, Martinek and law enforcement representing 300 agencies from across the state will work to do just that in a DWI enforcement campaign running Friday through Labor Day.
Nationally, drunken driving results in roughly 1.1 million arrests and causes 10,000 deaths and $44 billion in economic damage across the country each year. Drunken driving was to blame for nearly a third of motor vehicle fatalities in 2015, according to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In Minnesota, increased education and enforcement has helped reduce drunken driving-related fatalities. Preliminary numbers show there were 74 drunken driving-related deaths last year compared with 95 in 2015, a 22 percent decrease. The number of motorists cited for drunken driving has also fallen substantially, from 23,392 arrests in 2016 compared with 38,765 a decade ago, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety data shows.
Still, drunken driving is a major problem, Martinek says, noting that one in seven Minnesotans has a DWI on their record, and the average blood-alcohol level of a driver arrested is .16 percent. Most who are arrested have driven drunk several times before getting caught. Each crash, he says, can change a life, or end it.
"The toughest calls I have to make is to tell family members that a loved one simply going home was killed by a drunken driver," he said. "It's senseless and avoidable."
That's why the eight-year State Patrol veteran is tenacious when it comes to getting intoxicated motorists off the road. He logs more than 100 DWI arrests a year. Once he recorded 186. In the process he's won awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
On his recent shift, Martinek crisscrossed the west metro, putting more than 300 miles on his Ford Taurus cruiser. His eyes were constantly scanning, looking for the slightest cue that a driver might be impaired. "It's incredible what you see when you drive around the metro at night," he said. "We are looking for people doing dangerous things."
He checked on a motorist urinating on the side of the road. He stopped another who was weaving and straying over lane lines on I-35W. A third had hit a guardrail while a fourth aimlessly changed lanes while speeding up and slowing down. All those behaviors raised red flags and led to traffic stops. All were tested. None was drunk, except the driver of the Rendezvous.
Stopped on the Dowling Avenue ramp, Martinek asks the driver to follow a small light with his eyes. The Rendezvous driver sways as he stands, legs closed. The driver struggles to walk in a straight line, heel to toe. His moves are slow and calculated, though the swaying is better under control. The driver wobbles a bit when he's told to raise a foot, whichever foot he prefers, and hold it off the ground with a straight leg while counting "one thousand one, one thousand two …" up to 30. He doesn't make it.
When the driver fails the tests, he's not going to the home that he says is "right around the corner." Instead, he's booked into jail and assigned an Aug. 21 court date. Massive fines and a revocation of driving privileges are ahead.
With his suspect off the roads, Martinek calls it a night and is thankful he's made the roads a tiny bit safer.
"I hope to find them before they hurt somebody," he said.