Rice County joins the list of deadliest impaired-driving counties in MN

15-deadliest-sshot Last week the Strib ran a story about state of Minnesota’s annual crackdown on impaired driving and its release of new data.

Rice County made the list of 15th deadliest for the first time, ranking 11th. That’s more than a little disturbing because we’re the 13th most populous county with 59,000 people. Olmsted County (Rochester) has more than twice the population (137,000) and was ranked 15th. Our neighboring Scott County (pop. 114,000) ranked 21st.

“Counties are selected by the combination of alcohol-related deaths and serious injuries,” says the DPS Operation NightCap web page.

I emailed Nathan Bowie, a spokesman for the MN Department of Public Safety quoted in the article and he sent me a variety of documents which I’ve converted to PDFs:

I wonder if our Rice County Board of Commissioners plan to address this issue. I wonder if the candidates for Senate 25 have thought about what needs to be done.

Update 12/17, 7:30 am:

safe-communities-logoKathy Cooper, Coordinator of the Rice County Safe Communities Coalition (funded by the State of MN’s Toward Zero Deaths program), attached a comment below alerting us to the Coalition’s support for the ‘Safe & Sober: Over the limit. Under arrest’ campaign.

See Sheriff Richard Cook’s press release on the stepped-up impaired driving enforcement (PDF) that runs through December.

safe-communities-leaders-sshotAlso included is the PDF poster/photo of “18 community leaders standing with law enforcement in a show of community-wide support for eliminating drunk driving in Rice County” that was taken on Nov. 30 at the Rice County Court House. Among those in the photo (updated listing 11:00 am):

Row 1: 

Todd Rost, Capt., Faribault Fire Department

Ed Hoisington, Firefighter, Faribault Fire Department

Rick Matinez, Faribault Fire Department

Row 2: 

Joe Hargis, Vice President External Relations, Carleton College

Joyce Fette, President, Rice County MADD

Nancy Moe, Wellness Education, Northfield Hospital

Richard Cook, Rice County Sheriff

Dave Augustin, Manger, North Memorial Ambulance Service, Faribault

Michael Wilcox, Dr. EMS, District One Hospital

Mike O’Donnell, Paramedic Supervisor, North Memorial Ambulance Service

Row 3: 

Kathy Sandberg, Coordinator, Rice County Family Collaborative

Stefan Gantert, Assistant County Engineer, Rice County Highway Department

Shelly Cole, Drug & Alcohol Counselor, Family Focus

Mary Ho, Director, Rice County Public Health

Paul Beaumaster, Rice County Attorney

Dave Osborne, Chief of Police, Morristown Police Department

Neal Pederson, Sgt., Faribault Police Department

Matt Knutson, Officer, Faribault Police Department

Row 4: 

Chris Richardson, Superintendent, Northfield Public Schools

Mark Wergeland, Superintendent, Faribault Public Schools

Blaine Smith, Deputy, Rice County Sheriff’s Department

Nancy Silkey, Lt., Minnesota State Patrol

Ray Cox, Businessman, Northfield Construction Company

Mark Taylor, Capt., Northfield Police Department

Roger Schroeder, Acting Chief of Police, Northfield Police Department

Meredith Erickson, Assistant County Attorney

Brad Roeschen, Officer, Faribault Police Department

Photo by Paul Swenson Photography
Printing by Modern Printers


  1. Katherine A. Cooper said:

    I am the coordinator for the Rice County Safe Communities Coalition. Our goal is to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injury in Rice County. I just started with the Coalition on Oct. 1. We are funded through the State of Minnesota Safe Community Toward Zero Death (TZD) grant.

    Now in our second grant year, The Coalition seeks to build off successful efforts from yea one and implement additional activities to directly address the top five traffic safety issues in the community. Those traffic safety issues are:

    unsafe speed for driving conditions
    driver distractions
    impaired driving
    improper use of safety restraints/helmets
    road design and character

    The Coalition is comprised 20 community members dedicated to saving lives. We also participate in the SE Minnesota Toward Zero Death Coalition of 13 counties.

    Last week I did a “poster” of 18 community leaders standing with law enforcement in a show of community-wide support for eliminating drunk driving in Rice County. I am distributing the the posters now throughout Rice County. I have sent a copy of the poster and the list of participants to Locally Grown.

    Please call or email if you have questions, concerns, ideas, or want to join our Coalition.

    And remember, always buckle up.

    December 16, 2007
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Kathy. I’ve added the poster photo and names of the various Coalition members at the Court House to the blog post.. and Sheriff Cook’s press release, too.

    December 17, 2007
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    David Henson, your comment was way off-topic and was more of a rant (with sarcasm) than an attempt to engage people is a discussion. Can you try again?

    December 17, 2007
  4. David Henson said:

    I’ll try again –

    What are the death trends for driving in Rice County and MN, how effective has the above grant been ?

    December 17, 2007
  5. Katherine A. Cooper said:


    The data provided in the press release is for 2004-06. There wee 8 impaired diving deaths in Rice County. In 2006, alone, there were 4 alcohol-related fatalities out of a total of 13 deaths. I am in the process of preparing a ten-year traffic fatality study, but it won’t be ready for publication until Jan. I can post a copy at that time. The data is not yet in for 2007, obviously, but it appears to be down at this date and we want to keep it that way.

    This is the second year of the grant, and of course, it is always hard to measure the impact specifically, but as I mentioned above, so far Rice County traffic fatalities are down from 2006. The ten-year high was 18 deaths in 2000, and there have been four years at 11 (2006, 2005, 2003, 2001).

    Part of our grant requires that we schedule a Fatal Review of any traffic fatality in Rice County, within one month of the crash. We have a committee that includes all the parties involved, such as law enforcement, EMS, hospital, etc. and the crash is reviewed and recommendations are made on how we could educate the public to avoid a similar crash in the future. From the first year of the grant we were able to identify the top five traffic safety issues and that is what we will work on this year with programming, etc. in Rice County. They are: unsafe speed for driving conditions, driver distractions, impaired driving, improper use or no use of safety restraints/helmets, and road design and character.

    I can send you more detailed information if you. Thank you for your interest.

    Kathy Cooper, Coord.
    Rice County Safe Communities Coalition

    December 17, 2007
  6. David Henson said:

    Griff Wigley – I think if you are going to censor people , you should do it privately rather than label something a rant publicly (or put a rant meter on the blog) after removing the post. Now the only message is Griff says Dave is a ranter – and I have had positive comments on the post. If this is only a softball only blog then mention this at the point of submission …

    December 17, 2007
  7. Felicity Enders said:

    Kathy, thanks for the update. What’s the difference between an “impaired driving death” and an “alcohol related fatality?” Are these distinctions based on whether the individual was an impaired driver, another driver, or a rider? With such (happily) small numbers of alcohol-related fatalities, there’s a big difference between counting the number of impaired drivers involved in fatal accidents vs. the number of deaths from alcohol-impaired drivers. I would hope the state puts more emphasis on the first than the second.

    December 17, 2007
  8. Brad Kollmann said:

    For detailed information on the alcohol related fatalities and the numbers and percentages of driver and passenger fatalities one can find that in http://www.dps.state.mn.us/ots and then look into the “Crash facts”. You will find that last year there were 166 fatalities in Minnesota which were considered alcohol involved. That relates to about 34% of the total fatalities which seems to me to be very high of a percentage. When looking at Rice County, the numbers appear to be small. that is unless you happen to be a family member or friend of one of the victims. 166 people is way too many for just our state. Then, when you consider that there are approximately 42,000 people who die on our nations roadways, each and every year, without any large public outcry, each number seems a little more important. When you dig into it, you will find that the highest risk group (the greatest number based upon age group who die each year) are those between 16 and 24 years of age and they are the people who are least likely to be wearing a seat belt. The very most important thing that we can do is to get everyone to buchle up. That takes nothing away from the fact that drunk driving kills a lot of people but when you look at the facts, about 80% of those who die in an alcoho; related crash were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. do you suppose that has something to do with alcohol affecting judgement.

    December 17, 2007
  9. Our Insurance provider, Rob Martin for Farmers of Northfield sent us a brochure with a warning about how people who are injured as a result of person who left your house tipsy after a party you threw involving alchohol, can sue your butt, and that you can purchase a Personal Umbrella policy to fill in where your other coverage leaves off.

    Think of it as the homeowner being just like the bartender.

    Even if you think your friends won’t sue you, the person they injure might not think that- a-way.

    December 18, 2007
  10. Bill Ostrem said:

    Griff, Thank you for drawing attention to this issue.

    Kathy, thank you for the work you are doing. As someone who is advocating for pedestrians and cyclists, I’m especially aware of our vulnerability to impaired and distracted drivers.

    Brad, thanks for referring me to the motor vehicle crash facts web site. I noted this info: in 2006, 38 Minn. pedestrians were killed in accidents with motor vehicles. In 2005, 7 cyclists were killed and in 2006 the number was 8. The report said that the bicycle crashes are reported to the Minn. Dept. of Public Safety only if a motor vehicle is involved. It would seem wise to also report crashes between cyclists and between pedestrians and cyclists.

    December 18, 2007

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