Alcohol speaker draws more than 1,200 students
4 mins read

Alcohol speaker draws more than 1,200 students

“How many people in the audience have ever killed their three best friends while drunk and driving a car? My name is Mark Sterner.”

Mark Sterner held up his hand and silenced a group of more than 1,200 students as he told his story in Aalfs Auditorium on Monday evening.

Sterner was on spring break with four of his friends in Sanibel, Fla. They had been taking turns being the designated driver each night. Sterner said the system worked great for the five days before because it allowed everyone to have fun while still being able to get home safely each night.

But on their last night of spring break, no one wanted to miss out on the fun. So they decided that whomever was the least drunk of the group would drive everyone home, Sterner said.

“At 3:30 in the morning my mother received a phone call from the Lee Memorial Hospital,” Sterner said.  “She told her to get from Pennsylvania to Ft. Meyers, Fla., as quickly as she could because she couldn’t guarantee I’d be alive when she got there.”

Sterner had a blood alcohol content of .17, which is more than double the legal limit in Florida, he said.

Three of his friends, Aaron, 22; Pete, 22; and Jim, 23, were all pronounced dead at the scene.

“Old people die, you don’t die at 21,” Sterner said. “You aren’t supposed to die when you’re having fun. But they did.”

When Sterner woke up a few weeks later, he was charged with three counts of DUI manslaughter, which carried the maximum sentence of 45 years in prison. He only served three years because his friends’ families didn’t want him to go to jail for life, he said.

“Instead of being the first person to graduate college from my family, I was the first to go to prison,” he said.

Sterner said he spent a lot of his time in jail wondering why he lived and his friends didn’t. He was the one who was driving the car drunk – he was the reason they were dead.

Though he knows he can’t bring back his friends, Sterner said he talks to students across the country in hopes they won’t make the same choices he did.

“My friends and I wanted to have fun that week, and we did, but that night was our last night of fun for our lives,” he said.

First-year Ashlyn Hartman, who was at the university-sponsored event, said she lost a friend due to drunk driving and believed Sterner’s speech was very informative and important for students to hear.

“It’s not something that’s easy to hear about or talk about, but it benefits students to listen to someone else’s experience,” she said.

The presentation was a part of an annual alcohol speaker night hosted by Student Services, the athletic department, FYE and Greek life.

Lindsay Sparks, director of transitions, said she wanted students to view this as a lesson, rather than being told what to do.

“It’s not about preaching to students or telling them not to drink,” she said. “It’s about students understanding choices that you make and how those choices affect you and other people.”

(Photo: Mark Sterner tells the story of the night that he killed three of his best friends in a car accident while drunk driving during spring break of his senior year of college. More than 1,200 students attended the speech in Aalfs Auditorium on Monday night, where Sterner encouraged them not to make the same choices he did in March 1994. Sydney Mook / The Volante)