MARSHALL - Hidden in the sorrow that has been brought on by the death of five-month-old Drake Bigler in last weekend's crash is the thought that, like all other traffic deaths involving alcohol, it could have been avoided.
According to the criminal complaint, the man accused of driving drunk and causing the crash Saturday night near Starbuck had a blood-alcohol content of 0.351, more than four times the legal limit in Minnesota, at the time of the crash. Dana Schoen of Starbuck is charged with three counts of criminal vehicular homicide and one count of DWI. The Minnesota State Patrol said Schoen, who was alone, caused the crash after he swerved into the driving lane occupied by the vehicle carrying Drake, his parents, Brad and Heather, and Heather's 74-year-old grandmother, Sharon Schuler, of Granite Falls.
Bigler and Schuler were hospitalized. Bigler suffered a broken shoulder blade, broken ribs and a punctured lung. Schuler underwent successful surgery Sunday and both are said to be improving. Heather Bigler suffered minor injuries.
"The sad thing about this is, this is totally preventable," said Cpt. Brian West of the Minnesota State Patrol. "It's such a sad thing, and it's unfortunate that somebody chose to drink an excessive amount of alcohol and go out and drive."
West said the average BAC for drunk driving offenders in Minnesota stands at about 0.14. He can think of occasions when he's been in contact with people who registered a 0.34 BAC, and said such a person has extreme difficulty reacting to things.
"This is a massive amount of alcohol the person had to be drinking," said West. "When you and I go down the road and something's in the middle of the road and we have to avoid it that person will have such a slow reaction that many times they're not going to be able to operate a vehicle in a way they can avoid problems."
West said a person with that high of a BAC will also appear very sluggish. That much alcohol in a person's system, he said, also makes it extremely difficult for that person to do two things at once.
"You're probably able to steer pretty well, but as soon as you start that decision-making process, your ability to operate a vehicle starts to diminish," West said.
Blood alcohol content, or blood alcohol concentration, is the concentration of alcohol in one's blood and is usually measured as mass per volume. If you plug numbers into a BAC calculator, a 200-pound man would have to consume a 12-pack of beer and seven mixed drinks in a three-hour span to reach a BAC of 0.335. This is just an estimate, and it's unclear exactly what Schoen drank that night.
A blood-alcohol chart value put out by the U.S. Department of Transportation classifies a person with a BAC between 0.30-0.40 as "possibly unconscious" and "unarousable" with a "loss of bladder function" and "risk of death."
Police have reportedly said they detected a strong odor of alcohol and noticed Schoen's eyes were bloodshot and watery, his speech slurred, and he was swaying.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety says crashes that involve alcohol account for a third of the state's traffic fatalities annually.
In 2010, 131 of the 411 fatal crashes in Minnesota were alcohol-related, and more than 2,400 people suffered injuries in alcohol-related crashes, the OTS said. Of the nearly 30,000 DWIs issued that year, 42 percent of the offenders had at least one prior DWI.
According to state records, Schoen was convicted of gross misdemeanor drunken driving in 2005 and DUI in 2000. In both cases, his blood-alcohol content was greater than 0.20. or 2- 1/2 times the legal limit.
Last year, there were 136 alcohol-related deaths and 2,375 injuries on Minnesota roads. The 136 deaths accounted for 37 percent of traffic deaths - a 5 percent jump from 2010, the OTS said.
The Southwest Minnesota State University athletics department, on behalf of the Bigler family, has established the "Drake Philip Bigler Memorial Fund", through the SMSU Foundation Office.
Individuals wishing to make a donation for the "Drake Philip Bigler Memorial Fund" should send checks payable to the SMSU Foundation and please include a note stating that your gift is in memory of Drake Bigler.
All donations can be sent to:
SMSU Department of Athletics
Attn: Drake Philip Bigler Memorial Fund
1501 State Street
Marshall, MN 56258