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Duluth chamber president pleads guilty to DWI

Matt Baumgartner will avoid jail and the bulk of a $2,000 fine so long as he stays out of trouble for the next two years.

Man talking.
Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Baumgartner speaks at the chamber’s annual dinner Nov. 2.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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The president of Duluth’s chamber of commerce pleaded guilty on Friday to driving under the influence of alcohol, a move that will keep him out of jail so long as he stays out of trouble until early 2025.

Matt Baumgartner, 39, admitted in a virtual St. Louis County courtroom that he had consumed alcohol before driving a vehicle last fall, and that a subsequent test indicated that his blood alcohol concentration was .295. The legal limit is .08.

He was charged in October with two counts of second-degree DWI. A plea agreement struck between Baumgartner’s lawyers and prosecutors dismissed one of the two charges.

Matt Baumgartner sent a statement to Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce members Thursday apologizing for causing concern and revealing he has received addiction counseling.

Baumgartner on Friday received a “stayed” 365-day jail sentence, which means the punishment won’t be enacted unless he breaks the law in a similar manner within the next two years. The same is true for $1,950 of the $2,000 fine he was ordered to pay. Baumgartner must also use an “interlock” Breathalyzer device on his car for two years or face 30 days in jail.

Duluth police were called to a downtown parking garage around 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20, after someone reported that a Nissan Pathfinder had rammed through the garage’s gate and the driver was “nodding off” inside. Officers identified the driver as Baumgartner, who, according to court documents, had an open container of vodka in the car, could “barely open his eyes, and was unable to speak.” Baumgartner was taken to St. Luke’s hospital that night. He was not jailed.

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At Friday’s hearing, a visibly tense Baumgartner told Judge Gary Larson that he spent 28 days at a Hazelden Betty Ford rehabiliation facility and has been sober, as of the day of the hearing, for 112 days.

He told the News Tribune that he hasn’t consumed alcohol since the day of his DWI, but that he considers the Friday after it — the beginning of that 112-day mark when he checked into Hazelden’s Center City, Minnesota clinic — to be his “freedom day.” His hospital stay was rock-bottom, Baumgartner said.

“It’s embarassing for me to be in the news,” he said. “It’s really hard when you have family members in town. That’s just a difficult thing and something I never want to put my family through again.”

Baumgartner said he’s been regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and that he has been meeting with an individual therapist and is in marriage counseling. He’s also been doing outpatient treatment via Hazelden since he wrapped up his stay there in October.

“You’re doing all the right things, Matthew,” Larson said on Friday. “This is the beginning of a new, sober, wonderful life. Take advantage of it and stick with it.”

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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