Port High principal on leave after OWI arrest

Decision made by administrators after Gabrielse ticketed while driving home from bar, report says
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School resumed classes after the holiday break this week without Principal Thad Gabrielse, who was placed on administrative leave after being arrested for drunken driving three days before Christmas.

Port Washington-Saukville School Supt. Dave Watkins said Tuesday that he and Director of Business Services Mel Nettesheim, who oversees human resources for the district, made the decision in consultation with School Board President Brenda Fritsch to place Gabrielse on leave on Dec. 29.

But that is all Watkins would say about the issue.

He would not answer questions about whether Gabrielse is being paid while on leave, the duration of his leave or if and when the School Board will consider his future in the district.

“Because this is an ongoing issue, I have no comment,” Watkins said.

The decision leaves assistant principals Dan Solorzano and Nate Hinze, who is also the athletic director, in charge at the high school.

Gabrielse’s drunken driving ticket was filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court and appeared on the state’s CCAP online court database Monday, Dec. 27. Within days it was a hot topic on social media among students and parents.

Gabrielse, who on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to the drunken driving ticket, did not return multiple messages left for him this week.

According to an Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office report, Gabrielse, 54, who lives in Oostburg and said he had been at a Grafton bar, was driving north on I-43 when he passed a deputy stopped in a turn-around just south of Highway 33 in Saukville who said Gabrielse was driving on the rumble strip on the left shoulder of the freeway just before 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

The deputy pulled out and followed Gabrielse, noting that his pickup truck was deviating from its lanes and hitting the rumble strips on both side of the freeway, the report states.

At the Highway B overpass in the Town of Port Washington, the deputy activated his emergency lights.

Gabrielse pulled over on the Highway H off ramp on the north side of Port Washington, and  the deputy who approached Gabrielse said he smelled of alcohol and his eyes were glassy, according to the report. 

Gabrielse showed the deputy his driver’s license as requested, but when the officer asked for proof of insurance Gabrielse showed him his health insurance card, the report states. The deputy clarified that he was asking for proof his truck was insured.

When asked how much he had to drink, Gabrielse said he had two rum and Cokes at the Bridge Inn in Grafton, according to the report.

The deputy, who noted Gabrielse’s movements and speech were slow, administered a battery of field sobriety tests, at least some of which Gabrielse failed to complete successfully, the report states.

A preliminary breath test showed Gabrielse had a blood alcohol content of .172, more than double the legal limit of .08, according to the report. 

Gabrielse was arrested and consented to have a blood sample taken at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, the report states.

He received traffic citations for first-offense operating a vehicle while intoxicated and deviating from his lane.

First-offense driving while intoxicated is a civil forfeiture, not a criminal offense, that is punishable by fines, license revocation and in some instances court orders to have ignition interlock devices installed on vehicles. 

Gabrielse had been scheduled to make his initial appearance in Ozaukee County Circuit Court on Thursday, Jan. 6, but that hearing was adjourned Tuesday after his attorney, Corey Chirafisi, requested a jury trial. A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for Jan. 14.

Also on Tuesday, Chirafisi filed a motion requesting additional time to file motions to suppress evidence.

Gabrielse, a former tech-ed teacher and athletic director in the Howards Grove School District, was hired as Port Washington High School athletic director and an assistant principal in 2010.

In 2020, he was named principal of the school to succeed Eric Burke, who left the district to become superintendent of the Rhinelander School District. 


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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