Herb Bergson, a former mayor of both Duluth and Superior, was arrested Tuesday after allegedly crashing his vehicle into a tree and lying to deputies about the incident.
The 61-year-old, who has three convictions on his record for operating while intoxicated, pleaded not guilty Wednesday afternoon in Douglas County Circuit Court to misdemeanor charges of obstructing an officer and failure to install an ignition interlock device.
A criminal complaint alleges that Bergson crashed his Toyota Sienna minivan into a tree near his cabin in Lake Nebagamon shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, leaving the scene with extensive front-end damage and the airbags deployed.
Workers in the area reported the incident to authorities, who confronted Bergson a short time later at his cabin. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies reported that Bergson tried to pin the crash on his girlfriend, who they discovered was in Madison.
Bergson is required by court order to have an interlock device installed on his vehicle. A search of the minivan found no such device, but did turn up a case of beer, according to a criminal complaint.
Court Commissioner Rebecca Lovejoy set both an $800 signature bond and $200 cash bail to ensure Bergson's future appearances in court. He was ordered to not operate a vehicle without a valid ID and ignition interlock and not use or possess alcohol as conditions of his bail.
Bergson was released from the Douglas County Jail after posting the bond shortly after the hearing. He did not have representation during his appearance but indicated he would hire an attorney.
Bergson served as Duluth mayor from 2004-08 and as Superior mayor from 1987 to 1995. A longtime Superior police investigator before entering politics, he is the only person to serve as mayor of both cities.
According to the criminal complaint:
Sgt. Corey Knutson was dispatched to the crash scene at 7621 S. East Lake Blvd. at 5:17 p.m. Tuesday. A man who working inside a nearby garage reported that he heard a loud crash, discovering the minivan against a tree with extensive damage.
The man said he approached the vehicle, finding Bergson, who he said he knew “from local establishments.” He said Bergson initially “just stared ahead” before confirming that he was uninjured.
Knutson surveyed the crash scene, determining that the driver apparently failed to negotiate a corner on East Lake Boulevard, striking the tree and a fiber optic cable box. A portion of the headlight and other debris remained at the scene.
Knutson went to Bergson’s cabin, about a half-mile away, and found the damaged minivan. He reported finding an open case of Michelob beer in the backseat.
The sergeant said he found Bergson asleep on a couch, knocking several times to wake him up. Told that he was investigating an accident, Bergson repeatedly stated, “I am fine.”
When asked what happened, Bergson allegedly stated that he slid on ice and hit the tree. Told he could not drive without an interlock device, he allegedly changed his story to say his girlfriend was driving.
Bergson was arrested and booked into jail, still maintaining that his girlfriend was the driver. Contacted by phone, she told Knutson that she was in Madison.
Bergson’s history of three operating while intoxicated convictions dates back to 2005, while he was serving as mayor of Duluth.
Bergson’s first OWI was the result of a high-profile crash. According to police reports from that incident, Bergson's blood-alcohol level measured 0.161 percent, more than twice the legal limit, after his car crashed into a guardrail on U.S. Highway 53 near Spooner, authorities said. He then asked passing motorists not to call police and was described as “not very cooperative” by the officer who made the arrest.
His popularity slid after the incident, and he was swept out of office with a primary election loss to Don Ness and Charlie Bell in 2007.
Bergson returned to Duluth in 2012 to attend the unveiling of his mayoral portrait in the Hall of Mayors in City Hall. In his retirement he has been open about his issues with the law - even speaking publicly about depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.
Bergson, who later moved to the Madison area, was convicted of additional OWIs in 2013 and 2014, serving several weeks in jail for each of those incidents.