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Assistant county attorney receives MADD award

Assistant Becker County Attorney (right) receives the Greater Minnesota Prosecutor award from the Commissioner of Public Safety, Ramona Dohman.

When Assistant Becker County Attorney Tammy Merkins successfully prosecuted a deadly drinking and driving accident last year, she didn't expect an award for it.

That is exactly what she got, though, as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) handed her the Greater Minnesota Prosecutor Award on March 9.

The award recognized a particular case tried by Merkins, in which four people were killed and two seriously injured in an accident near Pine Point in July of 2009.

Merkins argued the February trial, which ultimately found Chad Stewart of Detroit Lakes guilty on all six felony counts.

He is now serving an 18-year sentence.

MADD gives out two awards like this to Minnesota prosecutors annually -- one in Greater Minnesota and one in the metro area.

Merkins says it was very humbling for her to receive an award from a group of people who have lost family members to drinking and driving.

"I can't forget that in this case I worked on (the Stewart case), four people did die, and the two who were badly injured had the courage to testify," said Merkins.

"For me, I accepted that award on behalf of this family and all the other families who have lost loved ones."

MADD Special Event and Fundraising Associate Kelsey Uline says the fact that Merkins looked at the award as dedication to victims' families rather than a professional achievement, proves they picked the right person.

"Our criteria for this award is stated as 'a prosecutor who shows their dedication, working in the trenches to save lives on Minnesota's roadways through their prosecution of drunk or impaired drivers.' Tammy Merkins went above and beyond the call of duty, and that's what we look for," said Uline.

Merkins isn't alone in her DWI caseload.

The entire Becker County Attorney's Office is kept busy with DWI prosecutions throughout the year.

In 2010 it pursued 160 felony and gross misdemeanor cases and many more first-time misdemeanor cases.

"We deal with so many (DWI cases), and unfortunately many of them involve people getting hurt," says Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz.

"It's unfortunate that an organization like MADD even has to exist because there are drunks out there killing people on the roads, but I am so proud of Ms. Merkins. She is a talented litigator, as are all the attorneys that work in this office," said Fritz, adding, "I'm lucky to have them here."

Merkins has been with the Becker County Attorney's Office since 2005.