Eighteen individuals were recognized by Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths at the statewide TZD conference Thursday, Oct. 23, for their innovative efforts to reduce the number of traffic deaths and injuries in the state. About 1,000 traffic safety professionals attended this year’s TZD conference in St. Cloud.

Two individuals received the Kathy Swanson Outstanding Service Award, TZD’s top honor, for their exceptional leadership in efforts to improve traffic safety in Minnesota.

Lt. Don Marose of the Minnesota State Patrol was the first of two recipients of the Kathy Swanson Award. Lt. Marose has dedicated his career to making Minnesota roads safer by educating the public, law enforcement and partners about the dangers of impaired driving. Lt. Marose began his career as a trooper in 1988 and currently serves as the Drug Recognition Enforcement coordinator. Throughout his career, Lt. Marose has developed programs to improve drugged driving recognition, prevention and enforcement.

Joel Watne is the second Kathy Swanson Award winner. Watne served the state of Minnesota for over 35 years as an attorney whose unwavering dedication and commitment to hold impaired drivers accountable helped lead Minnesota’s dramatic decline in impaired driving related deaths and severe injuries. As part of the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, Watne handled more than 12,000 cases that helped form current Minnesota impaired driving law, became known as the Minnesota subject matter expert for impaired driving and related traffic safety issues, always came to court fully prepared and with an unwavering sense of duty and fairness, treated all with dignity and respect and actively shared his knowledge with traffic safety professionals and others. He continues to share his knowledge in retirement by assisting current DWI prosecutors through the Minnesota County Attorney’s network.

The Key Club from Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls won the newest TZD Star Award – the Emerging Leader Award – for their sustained creative execution of a local teen driver education and outreach campaign. Each April for six years, the Key Club worked with the Pennington County TZD Coalition and Minnesota State Patrol to display crashed vehicles, hold mock crashes, and place traffic safety messages and car parts from actual crashes around the hallways at Lincoln High School. They also held the first TZD Teen Conference in March 2019. Key Club members on hand to accept the award include Elaina Ballard, Annika Christenson, Kyri Christenson, Ivy Wiggs and advisors Rosaline Groven and Heidi Carlson

Four Minnesota legislators were honored with TZD’s Distinguished Public Leadership Award for their collective work advocating for, and helping pass, Minnesota’s “Hands Free Cell Phone Bill” that went into effect Aug. 1, 2019. The four honorees are: retired Rep. Mark Uglem, Rep. Frank Hornstein, Sen. Jim Carlson and Sen. Scott Newman.

Other TZD Star Award winners include:

  • Education Star Award – Allison Nicolson, Essentia Health/St. Mary’s Hospital for her work on the JOYRIDE program, Safe Kids NE Minnesota Coalition, child passenger safety instruction and other local traffic safety programs.
  • Enforcement Star Award – Commander Jeremy Ellison, St. Paul Police Department, for a wide range of traffic safety innovations including his work developing the statewide ROAR and STEP web-based traffic safety programs, and leadership to improving traffic and pedestrian safety in St. Paul.
  • Engineering Star Award – Renae Kuehl, consulting engineer with SRF Consulting Group, for her passionate work in planning and technical analysis that has improved traffic safety plans for state, county and local roads.
  • Emergency Medical and Trauma Services Star Award – Kristi Engelstad from F-M Ambulance in Clay and Cass counties, for extensive outreach and education efforts including the “Buckle up with Bucky” seat-belt safety program for children.
  • Child Passenger Safety Star Award – Detective Cameron Gustafson, Coon Rapids Police Department, for developing a program that doubled the child car seat installation rates in his area by finding a way to provide car seats to families on medical assistance who struggle to obtain cars seats.
  • Judicial/Court Systems Star Award – James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney, for improving traffic safety at the local and statewide levels through broad community engagement, working with concerned citizens, community leaders, law enforcement professionals, legislators, and educating victims about the criminal justice process.

TZD Star Awards are given annually to individuals and organizations in Minnesota that show excellence in TZD’s emphasis areas of enforcement, emergency medical and trauma services, education, engineering, child passenger safety and judicial/court systems. They have shown their leadership and creative capacities in efforts to improve traffic safety throughout the state and build partnerships.

The Minnesota TZD program is an interdisciplinary partnership with the state departments of health, transportation and public safety. This collaboration began 15 years ago and has worked to reduce roadway fatalities by 45 percent.

Learn more about TZD or how to get involved at