Jason Oltmanns was in fifth grade when he learned the perils drunken driving can bring.
Oltmanns' best friend and classmate, Josh Renken, had been building a snow fort in his Big Lake neighborhood and was crossing the street in front of his house to get a shovel when he was struck by an inebriated snowmobiler. The impact sent the 10-year-old flying more than 100 feet. Renken did not survive.
"I didn't know anything about alcohol or loss at that age," Oltmanns said. "That was the first time I dealt with loss and death and had to comprehend the gravity of it."
Oltmanns has carried Renken's death with him into his career as a deputy with the Wright County Sheriff's Office and has become one of the state's best at nabbing intoxicated drivers. He is one of 43 members of law enforcement from across the state named to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's 2018 DWI Enforcer All-Stars and honored ahead of Thursday's Twins game at Target Field.
Oltmanns made 39 drunken-driving arrests last year.
For him, it's not about the numbers but sparing families from having to deal with a sudden and preventable death. Oltmanns said he recently spoke with Renken's mother, Lori, who told him, "Josh does not have a voice, so you have to be the voice."
"People want safe roads. That is my responsibility," said Oltmanns, who works the night shift. "[Josh's death] shaped how I was going to go about doing my job. It is nice to be up there with officers who share the same passion."
St. Cloud police officer Darin Vossen had the most drunken-driving arrests in the state with 168. It marked the second time he was the state's top enforcer and the seventh time he has made the DWI All-Star team in the 12 years the program has been around.
"As law enforcement, we are the final line of defense against the destructive choice to drink and drive," Vossen said. "I've taken that to heart and made impaired driving enforcement a focal point of my career."
Coming in second was Minneapolis police officer Jeremy Brodin with 156 arrests, followed by state trooper Mitch Elzen of the State Patrol's Rochester district at 152 arrests and officer Ben Wenande of the Edina police with 151. Another 10 deputies, troopers and officers had 100 or more arrests.
The number of Minnesotans cited with drunken driving has declined by 20% over the past decade. But after hitting a 10-year low in 2016, the number of arrests ticked up to 26,825 last year, an average of three arrests every hour, according to public safety department data.
Mike Hanson, director of the department's Office of Traffic Safety, said he hopes that in the future events like Thursday's won't be necessary. But until all motorists choose to drive sober, he said, law enforcement will continue efforts to get drunken drivers off the roads.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768