Rice County Deputy Jason Witt was honored Wednesday night by Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) Enforcement and Safe Roads Coalition for his efforts in getting drunk drivers off the road.

Deputy Witt worked eight extra Toward Zero Deaths enforcement shifts during the 2017 grant year.

That equated to 64.5 hours.  During those hours 150 stops were made and five DWI arrests.

Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Hlady said those numbers were from the TZD efforts but overall during the year Deputy Witt made 28 DWI arrests.

Deputy Witt was given a commendation during a brief ceremony at the Law Enforcement Center where law officers from throughout the county were gathered before beginning another TZD effort.

Representatives of the Faribault Police Department, Northfield Police Department, Dundas Police Department were all in attendance along with Scott McConkey, a retired State Patrol Officer and current Office of Traffic Safety TZD Law Enforcement Liaison.

Rice County Attorney John Fossum and Rice County Safe Roads Coalition Coordinator Kathy Cooper were also in attendance.

Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn is always good at putting events in their proper perspective.

He started his presentation by reading the names of  people in Rice County who lost their lives due to a drunk driver.  Then asked, "how many more names will be added to this list?  Most of these names may not be known by many of us but they are missed by people who knew and loved them."

He noted, "they may be a brother or sister, son or daughter, or friend.  For the family the pain is never totally gone."

Sheriff Dunn added the pain is especially there at family gatherings like the upcoming holidays.

The Rice County Sheriff said he attended an event in Dodge Center earlier in the day Wednesday where he met two more families impacted by losing a loved one to drunk driving.

The Hanson family from Fillmore County and the Fredrikson family from Dodge County.

"Their stories reinforced to me that we can not slow down our efforts to combat impaired driving.  We need to be proactive and aggressive in our efforts.  We are not the bad guys.  We are the good guys trying to make it safe for people traveling to and from their homes.  It is our job to serve and protect and this is one way we can do it."

Sheiriff Dunn added the TZD campaign was going to run through December 30.

He related the statistics,in the past five years 433 drunk driving related fatalities in Minnesota, 74 in 2016.  In the past five years there have been 27 fatalities over the holiday season in Minnesota.

The Rice County Sheriff said the county has been seeing a downward trend in recent years but the numbers are starting to creep up again.

"We need to do our part and we need to do it better," he said.

Educating people about the better options is one of the ways but the bottom line is getting drunk drivers off the road.

Sheriff Dunn thanked the officers for their efforts and was echoed by the County Attorney and others gathered for the TZD holiday campaign kickoff.

They each had stories about cases or calls concerning drunk driving that left a permanent effect on the lives of the families of those killed and the drunk drivers themselves and their families.

McConkey told the officers their efforts are saving lives.  "You may never know that directly , but your efforts are saving people."

I know attending the holiday TZD campaign kickoff educated for me once again about something I've known all along but sometimes lose focus on.

These numbers we throw out about DWI arrests and fatalities are all people.  Not just numbers, people.

Cooper handed out some cards to the officers for a sober cab ride home from bars in Faribault or Northfield and urged them to give them to people they encounter during their efforts.

L to R Sheriff Troy Dunn, Kathy Cooper, Deputy Jason Witt, Sgt. Mark Hlady. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld
L to R Sheriff Troy Dunn, Kathy Cooper, Deputy Jason Witt, Sgt. Mark Hlady. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld



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