TZD Star Awards Recipients

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Child Passenger Safety: Laura Owen

Laura Owen

Laura Owen is an administrative information specialist in the Fire Prevention/Life Safety Division of the Duluth Fire Department. Laura has been a technician since 2002 and an instructor since 2006. Over the last 15 years, she has trained more than 325 technicians and 120 practitioners, mentored 7 technicians to become instructors, and certified hundreds of daycare and foster care providers. She demonstrates her passion for CPS by creating monthly child safety seat checks and clinics, leading the fire department’s annual CPS class, providing multiple child care/foster care classes, and training multiple firefighters annually with the practitioner program.

Laura is recognized as the “go-to” authority on CPS and always welcomes questions. She believes all agencies should have a CPS resource, and she advocates to educate and train technicians in the Duluth, Clouqet, and surrounding areas. Laura is creative in educating parents and children in her community about traffic safety, such as working in partnership with UCARE on its car seat distribution program and with a local family restaurant to offer discounted meals with a car seat check. Laura supports the Safe Kids Northeast Minnesota coalition and Driving 4 Safe Communities coalition. Though planning to retire from the fire department in 2017, Laura will follow her passion and continue to be a life-long CPS advocate!

Education: Officer Adam Gau

Officer Adam Gau

Officer Adam Gau is a school resource officer with the Isanti Police Department. Officer Gau is an inspiration to the students of Isanti Middle School. In May of 2015, he created the Seat Belt Challenge, in which four students buckle into a vehicle and then are timed as they transfer from seat to seat as a group until they have been seated and buckled up in all four positions. The idea is to show how quickly and easily a person can put on a seat belt through a fun and engaging competition. By partnering with AAA and the Minnesota Juvenile Officers Association, of which Officer Gau is president, he brought the Seat Belt Challenge into schools across Minnesota in 2016, with hundreds of students competing.

Officer Gau has also offered a fatal vision course to his students for more than eight years, using fatal vision goggles and pedal cars to demonstrate the dangers of drinking and driving. This has had a huge impact on his community; students who took this course years ago still speak of it and remember what they learned. As a result, hundreds of kids better understand the dangers of drunk driving. He even tells his students that, if needed, they can call him any time for help getting home safely instead of riding with an intoxicated driver.

Officer Gau often speaks of how wonderful it is to serve the community that he grew up in, and he shows it everyday. He cares deeply about his community and students and has had a significant, positive impact not only on those in his middle school, but also on other youth in his community and his colleagues statewide.

Emergency Medical & Trauma Services: Matt Jakubik

Matt Jakubik

As a paramedic and community representative for North Memorial Air Care, Matt Jakubik has attended every TZD regional workshop in Minnesota for the past two years and brought back the message of TZD to all 780 EMTs and paramedics within the North Memorial system.

As EMS has struggled to find its place in traffic safety, Matt has brought the topic to practitioners statewide to explain it. Having responded to many crashes that had preventable causes, Matt finds value in preventing the crash: this is a culture change for traffic safety and especially for EMS.

To make North Memorial a traffic safety role model, Matt promoted a branding effort that put TZD logo decals on 140 ground and 9 air ambulances. The decals are a visual reminder to others on the road and a supportive message to police, fire, other EMS, and State Patrol partners at a crash scene. He also ensures all new and existing employees are informed about TZD by sharing an educational module.

Matt has been involved with the Highway 12 Safety Coalition as well as the statewide Auto-Launch Protocol. In addition, he has presented lectures on TZD at numerous air care conferences, where he challenged emergency medical responders, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, nurses, doctors, and law enforcement to become more involved with traffic safety efforts.

It’s one thing to believe in the cause, but Matt’s actions truly speak louder than words. His actions have helped reach thousands of people—and in doing so, have helped moved toward zero deaths on Minnesota roads.

Enforcement: Deputy Tom Coulter

Deputy Tom Coulter

The enthusiasm and energy of Deputy Sheriff Tom Coulter, Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office, is contagious and spurs the officers in his coalition to do their best in every traffic enforcement campaign. Deputy Coulter has served as the Safe & Sober grant coordinator, and then as the Blue Earth County TZD enforcement grant coordinator, since 1999, and he continues to serve as the fiscal lead for that grant with the enthusiasm of a rookie cop. He is well known throughout the state for his efficiency, dedication, and effectiveness in leading one of the largest and most effective law enforcement coalitions and TZD enforcement grants in the state. Further, he is well aware that the contribution of each officer is what makes the coalition such a success. 

Along with his duties as a road deputy who makes traffic enforcement a priority in every shift, Deputy Coulter also serves as a school resource officer for the St. Clair School District and as a Water Patrol Deputy. He promotes the mission of TZD in partnerships with the general public, traffic safety professionals, and city and county governments through his personal efforts, as part of the Blue Earth Safe Roads Coalition, and as a member of the South Central Minnesota TZD Steering Committee. Deputy Coulter also regularly speaks at local driving schools and 55 Alive classes. He and members of his local traffic safety coalition conduct events at local high schools, including mock crashes, seat belt checks, and distracted driving education. 

Deputy Coulter also works to increase his coalition’s influence to further enhance traffic safety throughout South Central Minnesota. By promoting traffic safety and building effective relationships with surrounding counties and law enforcement officers, he has helped the coalition expand to include LeSueur, Waseca, Watonwan, and Brown Counties in addition to Blue Earth and Nicollet.

Engineering: Lou Tasa

Lou Tasa

Lou Tasa, Assistant District Engineer/State Aid Engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), is a founding and vital member of the Northwest Minnesota TZD leadership team. His positive relationships with the county engineers in MnDOT District 2 made it easy to bring all 11 on board with TZD, and his ability to build relationships with even reluctant supporters has created long-lasting cooperative working relationships in every county in the region. All of the county engineers now emphasize safety when considering improvements to their county highways. He encouraged the county engineers to submit as many safety projects for Highway Safety Improvement Program projects as possible—and the region received approval for over $7 million of projects between 2013 and 2016.

In addition, Lou has formed a bridge between TZD and the county boards—and even many local township organizations. His active participation in presenting to boards is extremely important in reinforcing the “4E” approach and conveying that engineering investments are something even skeptical politicians can see the value of.

Lou has worked hard to bring the TZD culture to every realm of his work—for example, merging engineering safety practices with the personal responsibility of wearing seat belts. Lou has a great personal connection with constituents; growing up on a farm in northwest Minnesota, he can identify with the people who are more likely to choose not to wear seat belts. He is unceasing and positive in his message that seat belts save lives. He always reminds elected officials that as community leaders, it is up to them to set an example by wearing seat belts—and it works. Lou’s enthusiasm and passion have truly made a positive difference in the Northwest Minnesota TZD region. 

Judicial & Court System: Michelle Zehnder Fischer

Michelle Zehnder Fischer

As a direct result of Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer’s determination to hold an impaired driver accountable and dedication to the victim’s family, a plea was entered in June 2016 that resulted in jail time, restitution, and probation for a drunk driver who was responsible for killing his co-worker. 

The case began with a June 2012 rollover crash in south central Minnesota in which two occupants were ejected from a vehicle; the passenger was killed and the driver was seriously injured. A thorough investigation by the State Patrol determined that the driver’s BAC was more than twice the legal limit. However, the defense challenged the legality of how the blood test was obtained and claimed their client was not driving at the time of the crash. After numerous hearings, a district court judge decided in favor of the defendant. 

Unsatisfied with this outcome, Michelle referred the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where the initial decision was reversed. The case then went to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which affirmed the Appeals Court decision and sent the case to trial.

In her preparations, Michelle met with the crash reconstruction investigators and studied kinematics textbooks to properly decipher the technical reports for direct testimony and to effectively cross-examine the defense experts. Confident in the actions of the investigating troopers at the scene and always keeping the victim’s family in mind, she moved forward without hesitation when it would have been much easier to just accept the lower court’s ruling. Furthermore, as this case was slowly making its way through the criminal justice system, Michelle met with the victim’s family dozens of times; with their permission and in conjunction with TZD, a “palm card” was developed to provide a victim impact statement and promote traffic safety.

Since the criminal case has come to a close, Michelle has become involved in South Central Minnesota TZD efforts to reduce crashes and hold drivers accountable for decisions that put others in danger.

Media: Dodge County Independent Newspaper

Dodge County Independent Newspaper

Reporters at the Dodge County Independent work as a team, resulting in a truly collaborative effort in communicating traffic safety messages. The small-town weekly newspaper has been instrumental in supporting TZD efforts by covering local, regional, and high school TZD activities for many years. The paper actively seeks out traffic safety messages on a weekly basis and is passionate about keeping the community free of DWIs.

The Dodge County Independent has been featuring weekly front-page, full-color traffic safety stories since January 1, 2016. The newspaper has also been including front-page pieces on how fatal and serious injury crashes affect law enforcement and emergency medical services. Recent articles have covered the Southeast Minnesota TZD regional seat belt kickoff and the Hayfield High School personal impact speaker. In addition, the paper writes weekly columns on traffic safety and has developed a traffic-safety-message banner that appears at the top of each issue.


  • Engineering: Tom Dumont, MnDOT District 3
  • Enforcement:Trooper Gabe Cornish, Minnesota State Patrol
  • Judicial/Court Systems: Jack Muhar, Itasca County
  • Education: Brenda Pohlman, Fillmore County Public Health
  • Emergency Medical and Trauma Services: Deb Syverson, Sanford Medical Center
  • Child Passenger Safety: KaRee Lockling, Fond du Lac Reservation Human Services Division
  • Media Star: KKLN 94.1


  • Engineering: Nancy Klema, MnDOT 
  • Enforcement: Deputy Sheriff Tim Entner, Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office
  • Judicial/Court Systems: Judge Shaun Floerke, Minnesota’s Sixth Judicial District
  • Education: Jennifer Hoff, Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center
  • Education: Bill Shaffer, Office of Traffic Safety, Minnesota Department of Public Safety
  • Emergency Medical and Trauma Services: Deb Horsman, Mayo Clinic
  • Child Passenger Safety: Deborah Schroeder, Olmsted County Public Health
  • Media Star: Jennifer Austin, KBJR-TV


  • Engineering: Vic Lund, St. Louis County
  • Enforcement: Becky Putzke, Brainerd Police Department
  • Judicial/Court Systems: Thomas Miller, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota Department of Public Safety's
  • Education: Andrea Gierok, Winona County Community Services
  • Emergency Medical and Trauma Services: Tom Vanderwal, Greater Northwest Emergency Medical Services
  • Child Passenger Safety: Esther DeLaCruz, CPS Associates
  • Media Star: Jason Manning and KQDS Radio


  • Engineering: Brad Estochen, MnDOT
  • Enforcement: Jason Engeldinger, Minnesota State Patrol
  • Judicial/Court Systems: Judge Mark Starr, St. Louis County Courts
  • Education: Gail Weinholzer, AAA Minnesota-Iowa
  • Emergency Medical and Trauma Services: Dan DeSmet, North Memorial Ambulance Service-Marshall Region
  • Child Passenger Safety: Jennifer Booge, Mahube Community Council
  • Media Star: ABC 6 news team, KAAL-TV


  • Engineering: Mark Vizecky, MnDOT
  • Enforcement: Scott McConkey, Office of Traffic Safety
  • Judicial/Court Systems: Shari Schluchter, Beltrami County Courts
  • Education: Bryan Carey, Minnesota State Patrol
  • Emergency Medical and Trauma Services: Brian Nord, Allina Transportation Buffalo
  • Child Passenger Safety: Diana Van Wormer, Regions Hospital
  • Media Star: Trish Van Pilsum, FOX-9 News


  • Enforcement: Joel Scharf, Moorhead Police Department
  • Emergency Medical & Trauma Services: J. Kevin Croston, North Memorial Medical Center
  • Education: Dan Schoonhoven, Moorhead Fire Department
  • Engineering: Wayne Sandberg, Washington County
  • Child Passenger Safety: Sharon Munns, Saint Marys Hospital/Mayo Clinic
  • Judicial/Court Systems: Joel Watne, former assistant attorney general
  • Media Star: Star Tribune


  • Enforcement: Bruce Johnson, Dakota County Sheriff's Department (retired)
  • Emergency Medical & Trauma Services: Darrell Smith, Cook County Ambulance Service
  • Education: Joseph Grafft, Metropolitan State University
  • Engineering: Dave Engstrom, MnDOT
  • Child Passenger Safety: Brynn Duncan and family, crash survivor
  • Judicial/Court System: James Dehn, Isanti County Courts
  • Media: Stan Turner, Minnesota News Network


  • Enforcement: Jeremy Cossette, White Earth Tribal Police
  • Emergency Medical & Trauma Services: Jim Theodore, retired
  • Education: Cheryl Bisping, Mesabi Safe Communities Coaltion
  • Engineering: Dave Kopacz, Federal Highway Administration
  • Child Passenger Safety: Tom Jansky, Gold Cross Ambulance
  • Media: Jeff Passolt, FOX-9