County director on leave after arrestLake County Health and Human Services Director Dennis Henkel pleaded guilty to a DUI charge Wednesday in Cook County court. The other charges – speeding and having an open bottle of intoxicating liquor in his car -- were dropped.
By: Lake County News-Chronicle, Lake County News Chronicle
Lake County Health and Human Services Director Dennis Henkel pleaded guilty to a DUI charge Wednesday in Cook County court. The other charges – speeding and having an open bottle of intoxicating liquor in his car -- were dropped.
Henkel was arrested July 13 near Schroeder on Highway 61 on his way from his home in Duluth to attend a meeting of county directors from the region.
Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell said Henkel “received the standard first-time offender sentence” of fines and two years of probation.
Conditions of the probation include a chemical dependency evaluation and following its recommendations, and attending a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim panel. The fine is $500.
Depending on when the conviction is entered, Henkel’s license to drive will be automatically revoked for 90 days. That restriction could be dropped to 30 days.
The Lake County Board of Commissioners, which affirmed a paid leave of absence for Henkel this week, could bring more disciplinary actions at its next meeting Tuesday.
Lake County’s director of Health and Human Services was arrested on DUI charges last week and remains on paid administrative leave after a Tuesday closed meeting to discuss his case by members of the Lake County Board of Commissioners.
At the time of Dennis Henkel’s arrest July 13 on Highway 61 near Schroeder, he told a police officer he was on his way to a meeting of the regional directors of human services in Schroeder and that he’d been drinking in his car since leaving Duluth that morning.
Henkel, 61, was pulled over for driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone just before 1 p.m.
He’s been charged with DUI, speeding, and having an open bottle of liquor in his car.
He was jailed in Grand Marais on a 12-hour hold and attended the meeting the next day.
There was no explanation by county board members of when Henkel was put on leave or why he was allowed to attend the meeting the day after his arrest.
According to the State Patrol report filed in district court in Grand Marais:
A State Patrol trooper met Henkel as he drove northeast in a silver Subaru Forester on Highway 61 just outside of Schroeder. When the trooper approached the passenger side of Henkel’s car and asked for his license, she said she noticed a brown paper bag in the glove box and other bags and plastic on the floor of the passenger side of the vehicle.
She went back to her car to process his license information and noticed Henkel was “busy arranging things in the car.”
When the trooper returned on the driver’s side of the car, she saw him with an open liter bottle of peppermint schnapps with an “inch of liquor left in it.” She said Henkel did not respond to her request to hand the bottle over and she was forced to go to the passenger side of the vehicle to take it from him. She opened the door and noticed “wood and brush fall out” of the door and a fresh scrape along the passenger side of the car. She asked Henkel about the scrape and he did not reply.
The trooper asked if Henkel had been drinking and he reportedly said “not now.” She then gave him several roadside sobriety tests, which he failed. He blew a .128 in a breath test. The trooper made an arrest for fourth-degree DUI. Any test over .08 is considered over the legal limit to drive.
The trooper went through the car and found another bottle of schnapps, half-full, and an unopened margarita drink.
After the arrest, Henkel is said to have told police he was driving from Duluth to Superior Ridge Resort in Schroeder for the regional meeting. He said his first drink was at 10 a.m. after getting two 12-ounce cups of coffee at a shop in the mall area in Duluth. Police reported that he admitted to pouring at least 2 ounces of schnapps in them.
Police asked about the scrape on the car and Henkel reportedly said he had no idea how it got there.
Cook County Public Health and Human Services Director Sue Futterer confirmed the two-day meeting in Schroeder. She told the Cook County News-Herald in Grand Marais that Henkel was on the way to the meeting of directors from seven counties in the region to discuss redesigning how they might share services under increasing budget constraints.
Futterer said she was as surprised as anyone else to hear of the arrest. “It is unfortunate.”
The meeting began at 1 p.m. without Henkel. He was released and attended the second day of the meeting at Superior Ridge.
Henkel’s first court appearance was Wednesday in Grand Marais. The Cook County Attorney there did not return a call asking about the appearance.
The county board took no further action Tuesday. Members said they need to weave through the legal process before anything further than a paid leave is decided on.
County commissioner Paul Bergman said board members discussed what they know about Henkel’s case. The board could act at its regular meeting Tuesday.
Henkel was at the Lake County Courthouse during the closed meeting. There was no explanation about his presence and he was not present at the closed meeting although he had that right. He did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.