Segway drunk driver case puzzles police

Is a Segway more like a motorized vehicle or a battery operated wheelchair?

The answer to this question is a key to whether a drunken Segway driver will pay some sort of penalty or be free to again drive this vehicle while intoxicated on Medina city streets.

Attorney Steve Tallen, prosecutor for the city of Medina Tuesday, Sept. 4, told the Medina City Council that he would like to know the answer to this question. Appealing the reversed conviction of Mark Greenman of Medina would be a way for both the city and Medina Police to find out.

“If we don’t appeal this, we’d better stop arresting people for it and say that it’s okay to drive a Segway on city streets while drunk,” Tallen said.

Medina Police Chief Ed Belland said that, for the same reason, he also wanted to know the answer.

The catch is that appealing the case could cost city taxpayers as much as $8,000, if Medina were to lose the appeal, Tallen said. A loss would mean that Medina would pay court costs of both the city and the defendant. He asked the City Council whether it was willing to take the risk.

In a recent DWI case, the City Council decided not to spend taxpayers’ money on an appeal. This time around City Councilors decided an appeal is warranted. It would be worth the risk.

Tallen gave the council some facts in the case. Greenman was arrested three times for driving his Segway while drunk on Medina city streets. The first time around, Tallen and Chief Belland discussed the likelihood that this behavior would ever happen again. They concluded that it wasn’t likely.

But they were wrong.

In one instance, Greenman was arrested on Feb. 4 after driving his Segway without lights in the dark (around 5:30 p.m.) in the middle of Elm Creek Drive. According to the complaint, his breath test recorded a blood alcohol concentration of .19 about 90 minutes after Medina Police discovered him along Hunter Drive. In Minnesota, a blood alcohol concentration of .08 is considered to be driving while intoxicated.

Police first saw Greenman heading south on the walking path along Hunter Drive, according to the complaint. He and his Segway traveled onto Elm Creek Drive, drifted to the left, crossed the centerline and drove into the oncoming traffic lane. Police saw a white SUV traveling along Elm Creek Drive.

“The Segway drifted back over to the left and back to the center of the road, causing the SUV to slam on its brakes to avoid striking the Segway,” the complaint said. “The Segway then drifted back towards the center of the roadway, and the SUV passed the Segway on the right.” After the Segway crossed the centerline two more times, police stopped it.

The complaint said Greenman smelled strongly of alcohol, had bloodshot and watery eyes and was unsteady on his feet. He did not recall seeing another vehicle traveling behind him or passing him while he was on the Segway.

Greenman’s driving privileges had been revoked in 2009 because he drove with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, according to the complaint.

A Segway is a two-wheeled vehicle with a platform between the wheels and a set of handlebars. The driver stands upright on the platform. Commonly, pictures on the Internet show police officers and security guards driving Segways.

Prosecutor Tallen said DWI laws refer to anyone driving a motorized vehicle that transports a person or property.

Interpretation of the law became more complicated with the 2011 case of James Anthony Brown Jr. Originally, he was convicted of third degree DWI for driving a battery-operated motor scooter while drunk on sidewalks of Grand Rapids. His blood alcohol level was .17. Brown was physically disabled and used the scooter “as a means of mobility to ‘experience life and complete his day to day necessities,’” according to a June 13, 2011, decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The scooter had a maximum speed of 5.75 miles per hour, and Minnesota does not require a driver’s license to operate one.

The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the grounds that Brown was a pedestrian. Minnesota law defines a pedestrian as “any person afoot or in a wheel chair.” The definition of a wheelchair is “any manual or motorized wheelchair, scooter, tricycle, or similar device used by a disabled person as a substitute for walking.”

Up until the Brown case, a motorized wheel chair was considered to be a motorized vehicle, like a lawn mower, Prosecutor Tallen said.

In Medina’s case against Greenman, he was taken to court on charges of third degree DWI. The judge “threw out the case” while saying it was similar to the Brown case. Tallen said he was concerned about the danger Greenman presented to himself and others. And Greenman was not a disabled person confined to his vehicle.

Tallen said that Hennepin County has a case pending against Greenman. If Medina does not appeal the appellate court decision, Greenman’s attorney could tell the court that his client already has won his case in court thus setting a precedent for the Hennepin County case.

As Tallen files Medina’s appeal, he plans to ask the Hennepin County attorney if he wants to file a friend of the court brief in the case. Tallen also planned to contact the Minnesota Attorney General, because decisions in the case would affect interpretation of Minnesota statutes.

Medina City Councilors expressed concern about the safety of both drunken drivers of motorized vehicles such as Segways and other people out on the road.

Medina Mayor Tom Crosby asked Prosecutor Tallen to inform the city if court costs look like they would exceed $7,500 for Medina taxpayers.