Due to his commitment to holding impaired drivers accountable, as well as community involvement, Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad received a prosecutor award through Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Edblad received the Outstanding Greater Minnesota Prosecutor award during the MADD statewide recognition banquet held April 7 at the Minnesota Science Museum.
The award was given to Edblad for his dedication to working to save lives on Minnesota’s roadways through prosecution of drunken and impaired drivers. He also received the award for his willingness to go “above and beyond” the normal requirements of his position and his willingness to work in the areas of DWI-DUI case prosecution, education, prevention and innovation.
Edblad was nominated for the award by Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster. Beaumaster and Edblad attended law school together, and he also worked for Edblad in the 1990s. They both sit on the Minnesota County Attorney Association’s board of directors and also have worked on a number of statewide projects together.
“Jeff is a dedicated prosecutor in regard to DWI and criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation,” Beaumaster said. “He has been a huge advocate for victims’ rights, and he holds drunk and impaired drivers accountable for their actions. He clearly sends a message that drunk driving isn’t tolerated.”
Edblad said he was honored to receive the award and it’s a reflection of all the hard work by all the attorneys in his office.
“It is a huge honor to be recognized by such a wonderful organization as MADD,” Edblad said. “I’ve always appreciated the working relationship we have with the organization and the work they do on public awareness and advocacy to reduce injuries, homicides, harm and tragedies at the hands of impaired drivers. When someone suffers the loss of a loved one due to an impaired driver, MADD works with the victim advocacy groups to get the victims the support they need.”
Recent cases prosecuted by Edblad also factored into the award, noted Beaumaster.
Edblad prosecuted the case against Angela Marie Gutzkow who seriously injured her young son and brother during a car crash while driving under the influence of alcohol. Gutzkow was sentenced in January to 365 days in jail, and also ordered to five years of supervised probation. If she violates any conditions of her probation once released from jail, a sentence of 18 months will be executed.
Edblad is also currently prosecuting a felony DWI case against Joseph John West IV. Beaumaster noted Edblad’s arguments and aggressive prosecution during West’s bail hearings were a factor in him receiving the award.
After proving to the court West continued to violate his conditions of release since being charged in January, he convinced the court to order bail at $1.5 million without conditions or $1 million with conditions. West currently remains in Isanti County Jail, with his next court hearing scheduled for May 27.
West also served time in prison for felony criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Beth Reichel in May 2002 in Isanti County. West was driving with meth in his system when he struck the vehicle Reichel had been a passenger in.
Beaumaster said all prosecutors can learn from Edblad.
“Jeff has had a couple tough cases, and he always makes sure the victims do not get lost in the shuffle and makes sure the victims are protected, and any children involved,” Beaumaster said. “He makes sure the defendant is being held accountable and is responsible from a public safety and public policy standpoint. Jeff has no issues with taking a case to trial if that is what is needed. Jeff takes on the hard cases, and all attorneys in the state can learn from his example.”
The award also praised Edblad for his willingness to give presentations to new driver education classes at Cambridge-Isanti High School where he brings real life “case studies” on the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.
Edblad said he tries to make the classes as interactive and innovative as possible and present the information in a way that is easy for students to understand.
“For every new drivers education class, we talk about the types of impaired driving and different case studies that go along with this,” Edblad said. “I work to show the students that one individual’s life can be changed by one single act of driving while impaired. We talk about impairment by alcohol and controlled substances.”
Todd Larkin, teacher with the Cambridge-Isanti School District, said Edblad’s presentations to driver education students is useful.
“Jeff goes into several classes per year and always brings his visual aids and PowerPoint presentations to keep the students engaged and sends a strong message about the impacts of impaired driving, as well as distracted driving,” Larkin said. “The message he sends is real meaningful with the kids and shares stories of known victims that has a really powerful impact on our students. He talks about how lives can be changed in one moment and gives examples of case studies from our area to show these things don’t just happen in the Twin Cities area.”
Larkin said he appreciates Edblad’s willingness to speak to the classes.
“He’s in our schools, on his own time, to help our students and friends and family in the community,” Larkin said. “The students take a lot from his presentations and always ask a lot of questions. Jeff is a real benefit to us as our Isanti County Attorney, as well as a great supporter of our students and education.”
Edblad said, when he begins his class, he asks the students, “How many of you can send a text without looking at your phone?” Most of the students respond they can. He then asks them, “How many of you can read a text without looking at your phone?” And the students respond they can’t.
Edblad then takes it a step further and asks the students to look at the second hand on the clock for five seconds. He explains, when driving 40 mph, your vehicle travels 59 feet per second. And he adds in the five seconds it takes you to read a text, your vehicle has travelled 295 feet, which is about the length of a football field.
He then explains at 60 mph you’re traveling at 88 feet per second, and after five seconds you’ve travelled about one and half lengths of a football field.
“I explain to the kids that it takes about 1 1/2 to 2 seconds from a perceived emergency situation to deciding and acting on the perceived threat,” Edblad said. “I explain to them that every second on the road they need to be paying attention. I illustrate this to all the young drivers as they take on the responsibility of becoming drivers on the roads.”
Edblad was elected to his first term as Isanti County Attorney in November 1995 and is chair of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
“Isanti County has a great county attorney that the residents can rely on to do the right thing day in and day out,” Beaumaster said. “He’s also a great community leader and active in many organizations. Jeff always tries to be part of the solution, and not just the prosecution. He’s always working on teaching prevention of impaired and distracted driving crimes.”
Soon after Edblad took office, he set up the Isanti County Victim Services Office in mid-1996 that supports victims of all crimes. A few years later, in 2000, he helped lay the groundwork to establish the Isanti County Sexual Assault Interagency Council, whose mission is to build a safer community by utilizing a best practice protocol to improve the response to victims of sexual assault and child abuse.
“I’ve always believed strongly in making sure victims are not being re-victimized throughout the court process,” Edblad said. “We try our best to meet the needs of the victims in any way possible. We help them through education, participating in the process, obtaining restitution and giving them an opportunity for input.”
Edblad’s previous awards include the District 911 Friend of Education Award in 2011, the Johnson Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota County Attorneys Association in 2009 and the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Julius Gernes Prosecution of Excellence Award in 2008.