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Holiday DWI enforcement in Minnesota kicks off statewide

A memorial marks the spot in Minneapolis where University of St. Thomas student Ria Patel died, two days after the crash in which the 20-year-old Eden Prairie woman was killed, on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. Lisa Legge / Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL—With tears in his eyes, Hitesh Patel reminisced on the sweet smile and "golden heart" of his 20-year-old niece, Ria Patel, who will never again join her family at the dinner table for Thanksgiving.

Ria Patel, who attended the University of St. Thomas, was killed in a single-vehicle crash in Minneapolis in September. According to a criminal complaint, the driver — Ria Patel's boyfriend — was drunk and fled the scene after crashing into a pole.

"Every day is a challenge for us," Hitesh Patel said. "We don't want any family to go through what we're going through."

At a news conference on Wednesday, Hitesh Patel was joined by Sgt. Catherine Michal of the Minneapolis Police Department, whose 16-year-old-daughter was killed by a drunken driver in 2006.

"My daughter will always be 16 years old, because one person chose to drink and drive," said Michal, who requested that drivers make a plan before consuming alcohol.

"Please don't drink and drive, because you're ruining more than one life," said Hitesh Patel.

The news conference kicked off the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's extra DWI enforcement period from Wednesday through Dec. 30.

According to the department, 74 people died in drunken driving crashes in 2016. To mark those deaths, 74 unopened gifts sat in front of the podium at the news conference and will remain wrapped throughout the holiday season.

Additionally, in the last five years, nearly 13,000 people were arrested for DWI in Minnesota during the extra-enforcement period.

"I can't imagine being in the shoes of Hitesh or Sgt. Michal," said Bob Hawkins, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota DPS.