Court says Medina resident can ride Segway while drunk

With Minnesota state statutes on his side, Mark Greenman of Medina can ride his Segway Personal Transporter on Medina city streets after drinking at local bars — even if his blood alcohol level is above the legal limit for drivers of motorized vehicles.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals decided that Greenman was a pedestrian when Medina Police arrested him Feb. 4, 2012. He was riding his Segway PT in the dark on Hunter Drive following a visit to a Hamel bar. He failed field sobriety tests, according to the complaint filed by Medina Police. A Breathalyzer test recorded his blood alcohol level at 0.19. The legal limit in Minnesota for drivers of motorized vehicles is .08.

The Court of Appeals ruling, handed down Tuesday, Jan. 22, classifies a Segway PT as an “electric personal assistive mobility device,” similar to a battery operated wheelchair. A Segway PT is a device with two wheels and a platform in the middle. The driver holds onto a handle bars while standing on the platform. The court said a Segway PT has a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour.

The Medina City Council and city of Medina are in the process of deciding what, if anything, to do about the Court of Appeals ruling. Acting Medina Police Chief Jason Nelson said one possible action is lobbying the Minnesota State Legislature to amend state statutes so that they classify a Segway as a motorized vehicle.

Medina decided to take Greenman’s case to the Court of Appeals after Hennepin County District Court dismissed the charges. Judges from both courts held that his case was similar to the case of James Anthony Brown Jr.  He was arrested for driving a battery operated motor scooter while drunk on sidewalks in 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,” judges said in their ruling in his case. The court said the motor scooter had a top speed of 5.75 miles per hour. Minnesota does not require a drivers’ license to operate one.

The three-judge panel on the Court of Appeals was not unanimous in the Greenman decision. Judge Roger Klaphake dissented and agreed with the city of Medina that Greenman was driving a motorized vehicle while legally drunk. He also stated that Minnesota statutes and the state legislature were not ambiguous on this subject.

Acting Police Chief Nelson said the Feb. 4 incident was the second of three arrests of Greenman made by Medina Police for riding his Segway PT on city streets with a high blood alcohol content. Medina Police also arrested him in March 2012 for driving while intoxicated on his Segway PT. Nelson discovered Greenman after he had hit a pothole in the road and fallen from his Segway PT. He was lying in the street.

According to Nelson, charges for the March incident went to the Hennepin County Attorney, who has been watching the progress of Medina’s appeal regarding the Feb. 4 incident. The County Attorney was anticipating a favorable ruling for the city from the Court of Appeals that would have defined Greenman’s first two Segway PT arrests as DWIs. The March incident then would have been his third DWI on a Segway PT in 10 years, and this would have made it possible for Greenman to be charged with a felony.

Acting Chief Nelson said it was likely that, in light of the Court of Appeals ruling, the Hennepin County Attorney would drop charges against Greenman in the March incident. The case was scheduled to be heard Feb. 20.

Greenman has a DWI conviction on his record from 2009. In this incident, he had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of .08 while driving his car, according to Medina Police.

After 2009 Greenman broke his foot and resorted to using his Segway PT for transportation, according to Acting Chief Nelson. When the district court dismissed charges in the first Segway PT incident, judges cited the Brown motor scooter case. Medina prosecutor Steve Tallen told police that judges might have considered Greenman to be disabled because of his broken foot.

According to Nelson, Tallen instructed police to arrest Greenman and process him like any other drunk driver in any future incidents — provided that they had probable cause and Greenman did not have a physical disability.

“It was an unknown area,” Nelson said. “As far as we knew, it had never been brought up before.”

The Medina City Council will determine what Medina will do next in the Greenman case.

Mayor Tom Crosby explained the city’s decision to appeal the district court’s dismissal of charges stemming from the Feb. 4 Segway incident.

“When we authorized the appeal, we were aware of the Brown decision,” he said. “The Brown decision held that a wheelchair is not a motorized vehicle, because a wheel chair is a substitute for personal mobility. The individual in the Brown case was disabled. The city did not think operation of a Segway on a public street in the Medina case should follow the Brown case. Two of the three judges hearing the appeal held that the Brown case applied. A third judge dissented and essentially agreed with the city’s position.”

“The city is disappointed in the result,” Crosby continued. “It may be that a change in the law is necessary to avoid personal injury or damage to property in similar circumstances throughout the state. The City Council has not yet considered whether any further action will be taken.”

Meanwhile, Medina Police are clear on what to do as they watch for drunk drivers on city streets. “We have to let him (Greenman) drive his Segway,” Acting Chief Nelson said. “The court has said we can’t arrest him any further.”

He said he was concerned about Greenman’s safety and that he again might fall off his Segway PT. If he would be lying in the street, the driver of a motor vehicle might not see him and possibly hit him.

“He is more likely to harm himself rather than someone else,” Nelson said.