Custom combine worker fined in DUI crash

A Seattle, Wash., employee of a South Dakota custom combining company pleads guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol in a rare combine crash, and pays a $750 fine, after flipping a combine into a ditch on Aug. 31, 2020, near Berthold, N.D., in Ward County.

A rare driving-under-the-influence combine crash occurred Aug. 31, 2020, west of Berthold, N.D., in western Ward County. The driver, a Seattle, Wash., employee of a South Dakota custom combining company, wasn’t seriously hurt but pled guilty to driving-under-the-influence of alcohol or drugs. Photo courtesy Berthold, N.D., police department / Agweek

BERTHOLD, N.D. — A Seattle man working for a South Dakota-based custom combining company pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol and faces a charge of driving with a revoked license after rolling a 2015 model John Deere combine on a highway just west of Berthold, N.D.

Al Schmidt, chief of the Berthold Police Department, said the incident occurred at 2:30 p.m., on Monday, Aug. 31, two miles west of town on 72nd Avenue.

According to skid evidence on the scene, Michael Thomas Carr, 45, was driving a combine westbound when appears to have crossed over into the oncoming lane, caught his tire on the left edge of the road, then corrected to the right, crossing back into his own lane and then flipping the combine on its top into the ditch.

Carr was trapped in the combine, but was able to use his cell phone to call his employer, Rocky Wieczorek Harvesting of Mount Vernon, S.D., west of Mitchell, S.D., who then reported the incident to the authorities, who extricated Carr by breaking the windshield.

Schmidt said Carr had a blood alcohol content of .11, which is higher than the legal limit of .08. He suffered scrapes but nothing major for injuries.


Judge Richard L. Hagar, of the North Central Judicial District, on Sept. 1, 2020, sentenced Carr to pay a $500 fine in Ward County, plus $250 in fees — a total of $750, payable by Oct. 1. He has agreed to submit to chemical dependency evaluation.

An initial hearing for a separate charge of driving after revocation is scheduled in municipal court on Wednesday, Sept. 16, in Berthold. A former North Dakota resident, Carr's license appears to have been suspended in North Dakota since 1998, after a separate DUI charge, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said damage to the combine was significant, but he didn’t know whether it was a total loss. He said it was the first time he’d ever issued a DUI citation to anyone driving a combine, to say nothing about the crash.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Schmidt said.

Attempts to reach officials of the combining company were not immediately successful.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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