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Citadel News Service

October 19, 2001

A night of spring break partying and drinking turns tragic:

Mark Sterner relives the DUI accident that killed three of his friends

By Charlene Gunnells
Media Relations/Public Information Coordinator

          How many college students have done something stupid while they were drunk or had trouble the next day remembering what happened to then while drunk?

          How many have ridden with a drunk driver? Been a drunk driver? Driven 100 mph?

          What about killed a best friend in a drunk driving accident?

          Gathered in McAlister Field House on Oct. 18, many of the men and women in the Corps of Cadets raised their hands, cheered and even hooted when asked all but the last question.

          That one was reserved exclusively for Mark Sterner, this year's speaker for Alcohol Awareness Week.

          Sterner was a student at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island in 1994 when he and four fraternity brothers were in a drunk driving accident while on spring break in Florida.

          Three of his best friends died. Sterner, who was driving, and a fifth student lived, but have seen their lives forever changed by doing what college students do on spring break -- drink and get rowdy.

          After recovering from his injuries, Sterner spent two years in prison having been convicted of three counts of felony manslaughter. He lived with murderers, rapists and sex offenders in the Lee County Florida Jail.

          "It didn't matter that I'd never been in trouble before," he said, standing before the Corps in his bright orange jail uniform and flip flops. "It didn't matter that I was a college student."

          While in prison Sterner began talking to students about what happened to him. Now in his early 30s and on probation until 2008, Sterner doesn't preach to the more than 700,000 college students he's addressed over the years.

          He just tells his story and shows the videotape he and his friends made that fateful night -- their last night on spring break and their last night together as friends.

          "The last thing I remember I was in a bar drinking, having a good time with my friends on spring break," Sterner said. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about it, wish it didn't happen. I'm not going to be over it until the day I die."

          Sterner said life is about choices. His friends, all 24 when they died, made bad choices by drinking and getting into a car with him, Sterner said

          "They paid with their lives," he said.

          Sterner said he's on the speaking circuit because he'd like to keep other parents from going through what his own and his friends' went through after the accident.

          He wants students to understand how a single bad decision can forever alter lives.

          A lot of times, though, the reaction he gets is "yeah, it's sadbut it's not going to happen to me."

          "Maybe you're right. Maybe you're smarter. Maybe you're luckier," he said. "Then again, maybe you're not."