Speaker warns of DUI consequences

By on March 6, 2003

Imagine being on Spring Break with friends and not even knowing a tragic accident could so easily occur. Imagine driving and killing three best friends because of having a blood alcohol level more then double the legal limit in most states. Unfortunately, this nightmare was a reality for Mark Sterner.

Sterner was a member of TKE and went to Santa Bell, Florida for Spring Break his senior year with his TKE brothers, who were also his best friends and roommates since freshman year. There were five of them and they were on break for six nights, which meant they had a designated driver for the first five nights, but not the last night.

That night was meant to party and have fun. Unfortunately, they took that for granted and thought that they were too lucky for something bad to happen to them.

It started out in fun

Their night started at their hotel where they videotaped each other taking shots of 100 proof alcohol and drinking beer. As the night progressed, they decided to go to a bar that was only about 15 minutes away. The road was twisty and had many turns, but they managed to reach 100 m.p.h. in the 35 m.p.h. zone. At the bar, they drank more beer, danced and videotaped their night.

As the bar emptied around midnight, they got into the car and decided that Sterner was the least drunk, so he should be the one to drive home. Unfortunately, the drive ended about two minutes before they would have arrived at their hotel because Mark lost control of the car.

When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they thought that everyone was dead. Driving at about 60 m.p.h., the right tire went off the road, skidded into a tree, flipped over and all the passengers were thrown from the car.

Mark’s two best friends, Aaron and Jim were killed instantly because Aaron was crushed underneath the car and Jim was thrown across the street and into a ditch over 200 yards away.

Mark was also thrown 40 feet and was lying in a ditch. The paramedics thought he was dead because he was covered in blood, but they brought him to the hospital anyway. The other three were found in various places, after a long search for all five young men.

The aftermath

Three days later, Sterner woke up in a hospital bed and couldn’t move his neck. He had a neck brace on and was extremely confused as to where he was and what had happened. He saw his whole family; his mom, dad, brothers and sisters, but he did not know why they were there, so he went back to sleep for another week.

When he finally woke up for good, Sterner’s brother told him about the accident and that he and his friend Darren were the only survivors. Sterner lost over one third the blood in his body, had broken ribs, a broken pelvis, had scars from tree branches being pierced through his arms and leg and an extremely weak pulse.

His parents, in Pennsylvania, received a phone call at 3 a.m., but could not get a flight until 10:30 the next morning. His mother called the hospital every half hour throughout the night to check on him and was scared to death. At 6:30 a.m., the nurse said they did not know if he would make it. She did not call at 7 a.m. because she was too afraid that they would tell her she had to bring her dead son home.

“I live with this everyday,” he said. “I have dreams and nightmares that don’t stop. They don’t go away and that’s my punishment. This punishment will be with me for the rest of my life.”

After the accident, Sterner was at home with his family. He will never forget when the Police from Santa Bell, Fla., came into his house, read him his rights and questioned him. Sterner looked up at his parents and for the first time in his life, saw his father cry. He was fingerprinted and charged with three counts of DUI manslaughter and was sentenced a maximum of 45 years. Three months before his college graduation, he was put into jail for two years in a Florida prison.

Locked up

In Florida, crimes are determined on a point system. Because he earned enough points for three counts of manslaughter, Sterner was put into the toughest jail in Florida. He was scared to death everyday and the other prisoners hated him. Most of them had never even graduated from high school because they had committed the highest crimes possible.

Sterner would have been the first person in his family to graduate from college, unfortunately, he was the first to be put into jail.

After he was released, Sterner was put on probation for 12 years. If he does anything wrong within these 12 years, he will be put back in jail for his maximum punishment of 45 years.

Even though he is out of jail, he is still being punished. Every day, Sterner has to live with the fact that he was responsible for killing three of his best friends. Darren, the only other survivor, went back to college and graduated. He had minor injuries, along with obvious for emotional scars.

To this day, he will not talk to Sterner, who was his best friend for four years. Darren moved to California and every time Sterner is in the area, he calls to try to meet with him. Darren has not talked to his best friend since the accident.

Sterner also had to face the parents, families, friends and long-time girlfriends of the men he killed. When he told Aaron’s parents, he also had to introduce himself because they had never met. Aaron was an only child and his parents were too old to have any more children. His parents lost their only son. They would never see him grow up, get married, get his first real job or have children.

Pete’s birthday was the next week and his mom had just bought him a new shirt. She had the shirt in the car when she got to the hospital, but realized that he would never open it and would never wear it. Sterner said he knows two of his friends would probably be married to their college girlfriends right now and maybe have kids.

Lessons learned

People take their lives for granted everyday. No one knows when their time is up and when they will see their loved ones for the last time.

“No one is lucky,” said Sterner. “How do you know when your luck runs out? You won’t know until it’s too late. You won’t know until your best friend is gone and you will never see him again.”

Sterner has spoken to over 750,000 college and high school students around the country, but he said he has no idea if his story will make an impact and help save any lives. He does not want anyone to make the same mistakes he made because it is not worth it.

Life is about choices, some may cost lives. The worst choice Mark Sterner said he has ever made was the choice to drink and drive. Too many people die because they make stupid choices in Spring Break, he said.

Last year more then 30 college students lost their lives in the United States because of the choices they made while consuming alcohol. The last memory Sterner said he has of his friends is of the drinking and partying they did together, and he has it on tape to watch over and over as he thinks about how much he wishes he was dead instead of his best friends.

Mark Sterner learned one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn in life and unfortunately, he has had to pay for it ever since. One thing he found out from the police after the accident was that if they were all wearing their seatbelts, they most likely would have survived.


About Bethany Dionne