MINNEAPOLIS — In two separate crashes last week people were killed allegedly by men with histories of drunk driving – and light sentences by Minnesota courts.
Two nights later, a Chevrolet SUV allegedly blew through a stop sign on Fremont Avenue in north Minneapolis, killing a teenage skateboarder.
Two innocent people dead. And two men – both with histories of drunk driving and revoked licenses – now accused of killing them.
Their cases are raising new questions about whether Minnesota too often lets dangerous drivers go free.
“I think a lot of times traffic law enforcement is looked at as maybe a lesser crime,” said Don Marose, a retired state trooper who chairs the Minnesota Advisory Board for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“It’s not an assault, it’s not a homicide, it’s not drug dealing. It’s just driving your car. Well, we see what happens when ‘just driving your car results in a tragedy’ – and it’s horrible,” he said.
History of DWI’s
Consider the case of Nicholas Kraus who was charged in the Uptown crash.
“It’s real clear that Kraus has a profound drinking problem,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman when he announced the charges.
Court records show Kraus had DWI convictions dating back 14 years. Even after his fifth conviction a judge cut him a break. Anoka County Judge Thomas Fitzpatrick stayed a 48-month state prison sentence, gave him credit for time served in a county jail, and placed him on probation for seven years.
One of the probation conditions? Follow the laws.
While he was still on probation, records show Kraus was cited twice for driving after his license had been cancelled. But those sentences were also stayed by judges in McLeod and Chisago counties.
That’s not the only time Minnesota courts have let people dodge significant jail time for driving dangerously.
Diving after Revocation
Bobby Frank Brookins is accused of running over the 14-year-old boy in north Minneapolis last week.
Before that accident, court records show Brookins had been convicted of two DWI’s and arrested ten different times for driving after his license had been revoked or suspended.
In most of the driver’s license cases, records show Brookins would get a ticket, but fail to pay the fine or show up for the court hearing.
So, what was his punishment?
Instead of jail time, in most cases the court simply sent a notice to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to suspend his already-revoked driver’s license.
In 2019, when Brookins was convicted of his second DWI, he got another break. Court records show Hennepin County Judge Bev Benson ordered him to serve just 30 days of a one-year sentence in the county jail. He was placed on probation for four years on the condition that he have “no driver violations.”
After that sentence, records show Brookins was ticketed three times – in 2019, 2020, and again in 2021 – for driving after revocation.
In the February 2021 incident, he was also cited for driving 58 in a 25 mile-per-hour zone.
Even though he was still on probation, there is no record Brookins was ever sent back to jail.
“It makes you shake your head sometimes, wondering ‘What can we do?’” said MADD’s Don Marose.
The answer, in his view, is to take driving laws seriously – before more innocent people die.
“Unfortunately, sometimes high profile tragedies like these gets it into people’s conscience, where they say maybe it’s time we need to do this – and fix this,” he said.