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Lawmaker faces 3rd drunken driving charge

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Wisconsin lawmaker was formally charged Tuesday with his third drunken driving offense and marijuana possession after a car crash last month.

Rep. Jeffrey Wood was arrested Dec. 12 by a state trooper responding to reports of a drunken driver on Interstate 90. His vehicle had smashed into a signpost and snowbank before returning to the road. A criminal complaint against him said Wood told the trooper he did not know how his car got a flat tire and "suggested that it happened during parking."

Wood has apologized for using poor judgment but has rejected calls to resign. He is scheduled for a court appearance on the charges Feb. 4.

A third offense of drunken driving carries a jail term of between 30 days and one year and the loss of a driver's license for up to three years. An ignition interlock device may be installed for up to one year when driving privileges resume.

Civil charges of public urination?
Columbia County District Attorney Jane Kohlwey said her office is still considering whether to add civil charges of public urination and failure to remain at the scene of an accident.

His attorney, Tracey Wood, said she had not reviewed the complaint and could not comment on it. She said the lawmaker hired her to make sure he was not treated more harshly than other defendants because of his high-profile job. The attorney and lawmaker are not related.

Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation, according to a federal study released last year. The current Legislature is considering tougher laws, including proposals making first-offense drunken driving a crime instead of a civil infraction and making third and fourth offenses felonies instead of misdemeanors.

Wood, 39, of Bloomer is the only independent in the Legislature. Democrats who won control of the Assembly made him a committee chairman last year, but he gave up that post after his arrest.

Driving records show Wood was convicted of drunken driving in 1990 and 1991. For the first conviction, his license was suspended eight months; for the second, it was revoked 18 months.

The marijuana charge carries up to six months behind bars, while the drug paraphernalia charge could mean a 30-day term, according to the criminal complaint.