Hawthorne native killed in accident
Jason Zunker landed his dream job three years ago as a deputy for the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department. Since he was a child, the Hawthorne native had a keen interest in law enforcement. "He loved everything about it," said Zunker's uncle, Jo...
Jason Zunker landed his dream job three years ago as a deputy for the Chippewa County Sheriff's Department.
Since he was a child, the Hawthorne native had a keen interest in law enforcement.
"He loved everything about it," said Zunker's uncle, John Zunker.
Friday night, Jason Zunker was hit by a car at the scene of a semi-trailer fire just south of Bloomer, Wis. The 31-year-old died Saturday of head trauma from the accident.
At a Saturday news conference, Chippewa County Sheriff James L. Kowalcyzk said, "There's not enough words I can say to the Zunker family and the deputies that worked hand-in-hand, side-by-side with him. It's a loss that can never be replaced."
Kowalcyzk called Zunker "a class act." "You can't find a more personable individual," he said.
Zunker was born in Superior and raised in Hawthorne. He graduated from Northwestern High School in 1995, then earned an automotive mechanics degree from the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior. Zunker worked as a mechanic in Wausau and Eau Claire before entering the Wisconsin Police Academy. He graduated from the academy in 2003, the same year he married Lisa Johnson of Hawthorne.
Zunker started as a reserve officer in July 2003 and became a deputy sheriff in March 2004. He lived in rural Augusta with his wife. Family members and co-workers say he was an avid hunter.
The deputy had been directing traffic for about six minutes Friday at 9:44 p.m. when he was hit by a car at the scene of the fire on Highway 53.
He was taken first to a hospital in Bloomer and then airlifted to the hospital in Eau Claire.
The Wisconsin State Patrol said a Chippewa Falls woman was the driver of the car that hit Zunker and she has been cooperating with officers investigating the crash, which happened in the town of Woodmohr. The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram named the driver of the car as Erika Kressin, 21. No charges have been filed, the sheriff said.
Authorities shut down southbound Highway 53 for about an hour and a half Friday night while they dealt with the burning truck. It belonged to Wal-Mart.
"It's becoming one of the more significant reasons for officer deaths around the nation," said Capt. Matt Markon of the Superior Police Department. "An officer being killed while out of their vehicle either directing vehicles or on a traffic stop."
Two weeks ago, a traffic accident on the Garfield Avenue exit off the Blatnik Bridge injured Superior Police Officer Tim Monte and caused an estimated $2,000 damage to his squad car. Monte had been assisting the Minnesota State Patrol at a traffic stop during a heavy snowstorm. Another car rammed into his from behind. Markon described the conditions as "near whiteout."
Wisconsin law dictates that drivers must slow down or move into the left lane when they approach emergency vehicles on the roadway.Violating the law carries a $249 fine.
"Slow down, move over and give law enforcement officers the proper amount of space to keep everybody safe," Markon said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.