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Western Wisconsin lawmaker won't step down after OWI and drug arrest

Rep. Jeff Wood. Photo courtesy Columbia County Jail

The Wisconsin State Patrol said Rep. Jeff Wood had a blood alcohol level of 0.15, almost twice the legal limit, when he was arrested for drunken driving.

The independent from Bloomer is due in court Jan. 26 for his operating a vehicle while intoxicated and charges of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Troopers said Wood hit a snowbank and broke a caution sign a few minutes before he was stopped on Interstate-39-90-94 in Columbia County

Witnesses said he kept driving erratically until he was pulled over just after 2 a.m. last Friday morning. Wood escaped injury.

Wood represents the 67th Assembly District which covers much of Dunn and Chippewa counties along with a portion of Barron County.

On Monday, he issued a statement and apologized.

"This is not typical behavior for me, but unfortunately I drank too much and exercised very poor judgment. I want to let my family and friends know that I regret what I did and am very sorry for the embarrassment and pain I have caused," Wood said in the statement.

He told WAYY Radio in Eau Claire that he ran into college friends at a bio-fuels event last Friday and went to a bar.

He said he accepted marijuana and a pipe before getting into his car and he does not normally smoke pot. Wood told the radio station he would not fight the allegations.

Wood said he is declining the chairmanship of the powerful Assembly Ways & Means Committee. The lawmaker was named to the post last week by the Speaker-Elect, Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville.

"With serious charges pending, I believe that to be the right course of action," said Sheridan.

Sheridan said in a released statement that he was shocked and deeply concerned when he heard of Wood's arrest.

While he is declining the committee post, Wood told WAYY that he does not plan on stepping down from his Assembly seat which he won by only 178 votes over a write-in Republican candidate.

"I don't plan on stepping down right now," he said to the WAYY reporter.

The 39-year-old Wood is a six-year veteran of the Assembly. He left the GOP last summer and became the first independent since 1928 to win election in November.

Wood is the sixth state legislator to be picked up for OWI in recent years and it comes at a time when lawmakers are being pressured to crack down on drunken driving.

During his interview Wood admitted that this is his second drunken driving arrest. The first came when he was a teenager.

"When I was a teenager I got drinking and driving, but it was over 20 years ago," Wood said.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been surveying lawmakers on the subject, and putting the results online. The paper said Wood was among 60 legislators who refused to say if he would support measures like making first-time drunken driving a crime.