Spearfish firefighter arrested for DUI following call

Updated story as of Sept. 17:

SPEARFISH — A Spearfish firefighter was arrested for driving under the influence after operating a city fire truck.

Christopher Gengler, 58, of Spearfish, responded to a page, and then “drove the fire apparatus to the scene,” of a fatal traffic accident Sunday evening.

The crash, a single-vehicle accident involving a 2004 Jeep Liberty in which a 66-year-old female driver died occurred around 6 p.m. at Exit 10 on Interstate 90.

According to court documents, Highway Patrol Trooper Jeremy Biegert was investigating the accident when he was approached by a fire department battalion chief. The chief told Biegert that Gengler drove to the scene, “was driving poorly, stumbling around at the scene, and smelled of the odor of alcohol.”

According to the report, Biegert later met Gengler at Spearfish Fire Department Station 3, located near Exit 8, and spoke with him in a patrol vehicle. Biegert alleged in the report, that he could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from Gengler, and that Gengler admitted drinking his last alcoholic drink approximately one hour earlier.

Gengler blew into a breathalyzer test at 7:22 p.m. and it registered a .065.

In South Dakota, the legal blood alcohol content limit is .08.

Biegert said Gengler also allegedly showed signs of impairment on the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the walk and turn test.

Gengler was arrested and transported to the Lawrence County Jail where he consented to a blood draw that was conducted at 8:20 p.m.

Driving under the influence — first offense, which is what Gengler has been charged with, is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

Pat Rotert, director of public safety for the city of Spearfish, said Gengler is not an active member of the department at this time. Rotert said that Gengler drove a Ford F-550 brush truck to the scene.

The brush trucks are the smaller engines typically used for fighting wildland fires. They are not the large trucks equipped with ladders or a large heavy rescue truck.

“On the city side, we are handling it as a personnel issue and doing the things we need to in the city as a personnel issue,” Rotert said.

Gengler admitted to the Pioneer Wednesday that he, “had a couple drinks Sunday afternoon after working all day on my house.”

He has since submitted a letter of resignation from the fire department, he said.

He said he drank Jim Beam and Coke mixed drinks.

“I was having dinner with my wife and the call came in. I felt perfectly fine. I didn’t feel like I was any way in trouble as far as alcohol was concerned,” Gengler said. “I drove to Station 3 and drove a brush truck a quarter of a mile to the scene.

The fella that turned me in, I don’t know why he didn’t say anything to me when he got in the truck. That’s the situation.”

He said he wanted to reiterate that the breath test registered a .065 which is under the legal limit.

“I did not have a CDL (commercial driver’s license). I did not have a full size fire truck,” he said. “Technically, I don’t know if I should have been arrested.”

According to state law, a level of intoxication for someone operating a commercial vehicle is .04.

Gengler is represented by attorney Matt Kinney of Spearfish.

“Matt thinks that there is a strong possibility that charges can be dropped,” Gengler said.

Kinney declined immediate comment until the results of the blood test were released which should be later this week or early next week, he said.

“I did go down there knowing that I had a couple drinks, but not thinking that I was going to affect anything,” Gengler said.

“The biggest problem for me is, I’ve been on the fire department off and on since 1989, and this is the biggest blow I’ve had in my life other than losing my dad,” Gengler said. “It’s gut-wrenching to no end. It’s an embarrassment. It is humiliating. And it gives my fire department and my fellow firefighters a black eye.  I am beside myself with grief over that whole thing.”

“The severity of the call is what prompted me to go,” he added. “(A) Life and death situation. I felt fine to go so I went. The adrenalin kicks in, and you go. I’m going as manpower only. I’m not operating tools or anything. All I did was drive the truck a quarter mile, but that’s all it took to get me in trouble.”

Neither Fire Chief Scott Deaver nor Mayor Dana Boke returned calls for comment.

SPEARFISH — A Spearfish firefighter was arrested for driving under the influence after operating a city fire truck.

Christopher Gengler, 58, of Spearfish, responded to the page, and then “drove the fire apparatus to the scene,” of a fatal traffic accident Sunday evening.

The crash, a single-vehicle accident involving a 2004 Jeep Liberty in which a 66-year-old female driver died occurred around 6 p.m. at Exit 10 on Interstate 90.

According to court documents, Highway Patrol Trooper Jeremy Biegert was investigating the accident when he was approached by a fire department battalion chief. The chief told Biegert that Gengler drove to the scene, “was driving poorly, stumbling around at the scene, and smelled of the odor of alcohol.”

According to the report, Biegert later met Gengler at Spearfish Fire Department Station 3, located near Exit 8, and spoke with him in a patrol vehicle. Biegert alleged in the report, that he could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from Gengler, and that Gengler admitted drinking his last alcoholic drink approximately one hour earlier.

Gengler blew into a breathalyzer test at 7:22 p.m. and it registered a .065.

In South Dakota, the legal blood alcohol content limit is .08.

Biegert said Gengler also allegedly showed signs of impairment on the horizontal gaze nystagmus test and the walk and turn test.

Gengler was arrested and transported to the Lawrence County Jail where he consented to a blood draw that was conducted at 8:20 p.m.

Driving under the influence — first offense, which is what Gengler has been charged with, is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

Pat Rotert, director of public safety for the city of Spearfish, said Gengler is not an active member of the department at this time.

This is a developing and will be updated.

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