Drain Commissioner Barnes sentenced to 30 days in jail after drunk driving plea

By Ralph Echtinaw

Gratiot County Drain Commissioner Bernie Barnes, 48, was sentenced to two years probation and 30 days jail (with credit for 2 days served) on Friday, Nov. 18, following a Sept. 5 arrest for drunk driving.

The conviction was Barnes’ third for impaired or intoxicated driving. Prosecutor Jennifer Shephard said Barnes will be allowed to serve his sentence on weekends, but his driver’s license is revoked.

His priors include operating while impaired by liquor in 2017 and operating while intoxicated in 2019.

Gratiot County Sheriff’s Deputy Brenden Harless stopped Barnes’ 2019 Chevy Silverado at 8:13 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5, in Washington Township. Harless reported that Barnes’ did not slow for a yield sign while crossing railroad tracks on Allen Road near Wallace Street. He didn’t come to a full stop at Allen and Garfield either. Harless activated his emergency lights, but Barnes didn’t stop until reaching the home of former Gratiot County Sheriff Robert Beracy at 5731 East Garfield.

Harless reported that he smelled “the odor of intoxicants coming from the vehicle,” and Barnes “had bloodshot eyes (and) slurred speech.”

Asked how much he had to drink, Barnes “stated he had two beers,” Harless wrote.

Deputy Harless then initiated sobriety tests. Barnes had trouble following the deputy’s moving finger with his eyes while keeping his head still. “I noticed Barnes was swaying front to back and not able to stand still,” he wrote.

“Now I have to face the consequences of my actions and move forward. I hope everyone learns from my mistakes!”

Bernie Barnes

Barnes then failed a test where he was asked to take 18 heel-to-toe steps. The next test was standing on one foot, which he also failed. Barnes then passed the tests for counting down (from 93 to 79) and saying the alphabet from A to T. 

Barnes consented to a breath test, which resulted in a blood/alcohol level of .112 percent, which is above the legal limit of .08 percent. That result was confirmed by a blood test.

Harless interviewed the passenger in Barnes’ vehicle; his wife Francine. She said her parents lived in the house where Barnes had stopped. Harless offered to give her the sobriety test to see if she was sober enough to legally drive the truck. She said she had “a few beers as well” and declined to take the test. So the truck was left overnight at the Baracy residence.

Contacted by email in September, Barnes had this to say: “I have been without a project manager since April due to the job market and salary the county can offer. I made the poor decision to drive to inspect a county drain in my personal truck in Elba Township, after I had a few beers earlier that day. I also was taking my dogs for a ride because my new little 11-week-old puppy is content sleeping in my truck like a little child. I met a county cop sitting at an intersection on a back road and he continued to follow me into Washington Township. He claims I did not properly yield at a railroad crossing and made a traffic stop. I failed the breathalyzer and was arrested. Now I have to face the consequences of my actions and move forward. I hope everyone learns from my mistakes!”

Barnes last arrest for drunk driving was by State Police Trooper Zachary Darter of the Lakeview post on Dec. 7, 2019.

For that Barnes got 13 days in jail and one year probation.

Barnes has been Gratiot County drain commissioner since January 2017. In 2020 he was reelected while running unopposed in the primary and general elections.

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