August 19, 2009
Speaker warns of the dangers of drinking and driving
Hundreds of college students gathered in Cowley College’s Robert
Brown Theatre on Wednesday to listen to speaker Mark Sterner during part
of the school’s orientation.
Sterner’s message was a powerful one. Don’t drink and drive, it can change the life of yourself and your loved ones.
Just months from graduation, Sterner and four of his fraternity brothers headed to Spring Break in Florida. Each night, one would be the designated driver. But on the final night, they decided that the least drunk among them would drive home. Sterner ended up with the keys at the end of the night.
The next morning, three of the men were dead, and Sterner lay in the hospital critically injured and facing three felony counts of manslaughter. Instead of being the first in his family to graduate from college, he would be the first to go to prison.
Sterner was a student at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island in 1994 when the accident occurred. After waking up in a hospital bed two weeks after the accident, Sterner was told three of his best friends died in the accident. Along with having to deal with the terrible pain of knowing what had happened to his friends, Sterner was next faced with having to do time in a federal prison.
Sterner spent three years in prison having been convicted of three counts of felony manslaughter. He lived with murderers, rapists and other criminal offenders in the Lee County Florida Jail.
"It didn't matter that I'd never been in trouble before," Sterner said. "It didn't matter that I was a college student."
Sterner shared his story and showed the videotape he and his friends made that fateful night, which was their last night on spring break.
He wants students to understand how a single bad decision can forever alter lives.
Kristi Shaw, director of student life at Cowley College, helped arrange Sterner’s visit to campus.
“If his speech can change the life of even one student in making the decision to get in a car with someone that has been drinking then it was worth having him here,” Shaw said. “His story was very powerful, it showed how alcohol can not only affect your life but also the lives of the people around you.”