The Rice County Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) Safe Roads Coalition held a news conference in the Rice County Law Enforcement Center (LEC) in Faribault Wednesday night.  The message was simple and clear.  Drunk driving will not be tolerated in Rice County.  A number of statistics were shared but it was emphasized these numbers have humans attached to them.

Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn opened the event by explaining a TZD DWI enforcement campaign was being kicked off the eve before Thanksgiving because it's one of the deadliest times on the roadway.  The extra enforcement patrols will be conducted each weekend from now through December 29th.

During the news conference Faribault Police officer Josh Sjodin was awarded a certificate of appreciation for having the most DWI arrests in Rice County in 2017.  Sheriff Dunn read the certificate which stated, "The Rice County Sheriff's Department along with the Rice County Safe Roads Coalition commends you for your 17 DWI arrests and 284 traffic stops in 2017."

Rice County TZD Presentation. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

The Sheriff thanked Officer Sjodin for his "hard work."  Sergeant Matt Knutson echoed the Sheriff's comments and thanked the Faribault Police Officer for his, "dedication to traffic safety not only in Faribault but in Rice County as a whole.  I know he's made a commitment the last couple years not necessarily to lead the department and the county in DWI's, but just to excel in that aspect of his job and we appreciate his efforts and hard work."

Officer Sjodin was clearly humbled saying he appreciated the recognition.  "I go out and work hard every night to make the roads a little bit safer."  His family posed for a photo with him.

Sheriff Dunn added, "I want to thank Josh and all of the work of all of the deputies, troopers and officers throughout the county that make the difference.  Whether they make one traffic stop or five DWI arrests, each one of  those is making a difference and hopefully changing the people's thought process and their behavior to the better.  Hopefully those DWI arrests prevent a serious injury crash or fatality."

The Rice County Sheriff knocked on the wooden lectern as he said, "We've only had two fatalities in the county this year.  That's two too many in my book and we want to keep working toward zero deaths."

Rice County Attorney John Fossum shared a story of how he and his family have been impacted by drunk driving.  "My sister was a passenger in a vehicle probably 40 years ago about this time. She was a freshman in college and I was in junior high.  She was coming home from college on the night before Thanksgiving and was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a friend from college and they were run into head on by a pickup truck with I think three guys in it going the other way, blasted, and they slammed into the car my sister was in killing the driver.  She still has the emotional scars from that 40 years later."

Fossum added, "She had her Thanksgiving in the hospital, her Christmas dinner through a straw and like I said that's something she's lived with for 40 years.  It's not something that goes away.  It's not just a one night mistake.  It's a life altering mistake for everyone involved."

Rice County Attorney John Fossum at TZD News Conference. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

Nancy Johnson of Minnesotans for Safe Driving told the officers she was "happy you people are going to go out and capture drunk drivers because one of them killed my daughter back in 1984.  I'm still doing this so you can see what it did to us.  Myself, my family we are still working very hard to keep drunk drivers off the road.  When I started 34 years ago 50 percent of the crashes involved drunk driving.  There were more fatalities and so it has been successful.  Drunk driving is now down to 32 percent so things are working.  I think the general public now believes drunk driving is not right."

Nancy Johnson- Minnesotans for Safe Driving. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

Kathy Cooper is Rice County Safe Roads Coalition Coordinator and said the organization has been working in the county since 2006.  "The coalition is all the law enforcement agencies, the County Attorney, Minnesotans for Safe Driving, Rice County Public Health.  Lots of partners.  The hospitals, the clinics, the schools.  Working together to try keep Rice County roads safe."

Cooper added, "I too have been impacted by a drunk driver.  Nineteen years ago now my youngest daughter, who was 12 at the time and is now a fourth grade teacher here in Faribault at the Cannon River Stem School.  Every year she has her students make thank you cards for the officers."

Cooper had scores of cards on a table at the front of the room, "These little fourth graders all seem to get it and thank the officers for keeping their families safe and for stepping away from their families Thanksgiving eve to help keep them safe."

Kathy Cooper Rice County Safe Roads Coalition Coordinator. Photo by Gordy Kosfeld

Here are just a few of the numbers shared by Toward Zero Deaths Southeast Minnesota.

  • In 2017 Rice County averaged 4.6 DWIs a week.
  • From 2013 through 2017 there were 26 fatalities and 89 serious injuries in road crashes with 7 fatalities and 28 serious injuries being alcohol-related.
  • During the same time period 5 of the fatalities involved unbelted occupants and 15 of the serious injury crashes had 15 occupants not wearing a seat belt.
  • The top 3 causes of crashes were alcohol, speed and distracted driving.