Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson, who was sentenced for drunken driving after crashing his official vehicle last month near Alexandria, Minn., contended to witnesses and law enforcement officers soon after the wreck that someone else was driving the SUV, according to a newly unsealed search warrant.
The warrant in Becker County District Court also says that an open bottle of bourbon "was observed inside the passenger compartment," which is against the law.
According to the filing:
A Douglas County sheriff's deputy told a state trooper that Hutchinson was the only person at the crash scene shortly after 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 8 along Interstate 94, and he "denied being the driver of the vehicle to both witnesses at the scene and deputies upon their arrival. No other individuals were located either inside the vehicle or immediate area."
One of the deputies at the scene informed the trooper that "Hutchinson told him on several occasions that he was not driving, and at one point, said that he called a cab and that the cab driver was driving the vehicle."
Hutchinson's attorney, Fred Bruno, characterized Hutchinson's comments about another driver as "old news" given that his client pleaded guilty two weeks ago in connection with his arrest.
"He rang his bell" from the impact of the crash, Bruno said Tuesday, "and whatever he said at the scene was meaningless given his medical condition."
Bruno also said he has the law enforcement inventory of the vehicle's contents, and "there was no open bottle." He declined to share the list with the Star Tribune.
Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, whose office prosecuted Hutchinson, said the complete file in the case does not become public until 30 days after sentencing, which occurred on Dec. 20, when he was put on probation for two years.
Bruno added that state troopers can be overzealous when it comes to drunken driving enforcement.
"Troopers are very thorough and unforgiving on DUIs," he said. "They would charge Mother Teresa."
The sheriff had a blood alcohol content of 0.13%, according to a test of his urine; the state legal limit is 0.08%. He was charged with four misdemeanor drunken driving charges, but pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree driving under the influence of alcohol.
The search warrant was filed in order to receive court permission for the State Patrol to check the driver's side airbag and the steering wheel for DNA, and to look for open containers of alcohol or "other evidence of alcohol consumption." The search also led to the patrol seizing Hutchinson's smartphone, the filing noted.
Last week, Hutchinson did a series of one-on-one interviews with various news media including the Star Tribune. He never mentioned to the Star Tribune that he initially said someone else was driving at the time of the crash.
Hutchinson told the Star Tribune that while at the Minnesota Sheriffs Association winter gathering he had drinks at a hospitality suite in the evening and eventually went back to his room, where he intended to spend the night. But he said he couldn't sleep, packed his bag and decided to make the trip back to the Twin Cities.
Hutchinson admitted the details were fuzzy on what led to the crash. His SUV veered off I-94 and onto a snow-covered shoulder. The vehicle went into a ditch and flipped, leaving him with a concussion and several broken ribs and vertebrae.
He has since returned to work, said he is receiving treatment for alcohol abuse and has pledged that he will not resign from his elected post.