A lesson for a safe spring break

“Have you ever driven a car drunk?”

“Have you ever been the passenger in a car with someone who was driving drunk?”

“Have you ever killed your three best friends in a car wreck?”

These were some of the beginning questions that Mark Sterner asked the 450 students who were in attendance to hear him speak on March 5 about his fatal spring break experience.

Just three months before his set graduation date, Sterner and four of his fraternity brothers went to Sanibel Island in Fort Meyers, FL for their last spring break together.

Two of his friends were planning to propose to their girlfriends at graduation, and all of them had bright futures ahead.

On their last night of spring break, they all decided to drink and would just decide who the designated driver would be between the five of them later depending on who was the least drunk. The judgment was that Sterner was the least drunk and had to be the designated driver.

On their way home from a bar later that night while going between 55 and 60 mph in a 45 mph zone, they swerved off the road and crashed their rental car into trees.

Two out of the five were killed instantly and one would later be pronounced dead. Sterner was in critical condition, including being in a coma for five days, at the local hospital. At the age of 21, Sterner was charged with three counts of DUI manslaughter.

DUI manslaughter is considered a felony which could have gotten Sterner 45 years in prison, however, the parents of Sterner’s friends didn’t press charges.

Sterner found himself being summoned to three years in a prison and living with rapists and murderers in a Florida state penitentiary.

After being released from prison, Sterner found that the one other friend that survived the crash doesn’t wish to speak to him because “it brings up too many bad memories.”

Sterner speaks at over 100 colleges each year sharing his story.

“I relive this over 100 times each year so that everyone can make a better choice than me,” said Sterner close to the end of his speech. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my friends…I know it’s grim but that’s reality.”

Many students after the program had around the same things to say.

“That was really what I wanted to hear right before my trip to Panama City Beach…” said one student sarcastically as he was leaving the U.C. Grandroom.

Slowly the reactions seemed to become less sarcastic and more responsive to Sterner’s message.

“That was a good speaker right before spring break to try and scare people out of getting into bad situations like that,” said Megan Harris.

“That was so sad and it definitely makes me not want to get involved in that type of situation,” said Amanda Bowen.

For those that decide to travel for spring break in future years or for any breaks away from school, here are a few facts about drinking and driving from Sterner:

• “More passengers die than drivers in DUI accidents.”
• “Life’s all about choices…don’t make a stupid one…if you usually make stupid one’s, don’t be as stupid on spring break.”
• “Know where you’re going and have a way to get home.”
• “Take a cab if your have to.”
• “Figure out a designated driver before you go out.”
• “Be careful and watch out for each other.”

Sterner’s story is sad but his message was clear and for all of the students in attendance it definitely had an impact.

If you want to learn more about Sterner’s story you can click this link of a video of a previous speech that Sterner made.