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DWI tragedy remembered

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News Worthington, 56187
Daily Globe
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Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

FULDA -- Three caskets. Three empty chairs. Three boys. And a story that hasn't lost its relevance after being told more than 150 times.

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Today marks the four-year anniversary of the day that three of Nathan and Connie Backstrom's sons were killed by a drunk driver. They told their story Thursday at Fulda High School.

"We will see them again but for now must wait. And we tell the story that we have been given. And it is truly by God's grace that we stand before you today to live one new day at a time," said Nathan, whose family credits their strong Christian faith for seeing them through the tragedy.

The school's Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) chapter planned the presentation to warn students and the public against the dangers of impaired driving.

"I think people are going to be impacted by it and see that (drunk driving) is a big deal," said Abigail Hubbling, an 11th-grade FCCLA member. "It's not a school issue; it's more of a community issue. I wouldn't say we have a huge problem but people do not have a care, like it's not a problem. It's almost like you're looked down on if you don't do it."

Nathan began the presentation by introducing the crowd to his five sons. The younger of the brothers, Ryan and Charles, were in the audience. His other three sons, Matthew, Jacob and Justin, lost their lives in the crash.

"They loved to drink Mountain Dew," he told the crowd, the brothers even made a video proclaiming their love for the soft drink, which drew tentative laughter from the crowd.

Then, Connie stepped forward to tell her story. The boys had made a quick trip to Wal-Mart about half an hour away from their Hampton home. They checked in with her before leaving the store -- but when they hadn't shown two hours later, Connie was growing increasingly concerned. When she saw headlights in her driveway she thought the boys must have stopped to pick up their friend, Mike.

"I see two sets of headlights coming up our driveway. It wasn't my boys, it wasn't their friend Mike. Two Dakota County squad cars were sitting in my driveway, and I knew instantly that someone was dead. But who?" she recounted. "I had this false idea that Sundays were safe. They're not the deadliest day, but they're right up there. The reason? Alcohol-related car crashes."

The deputies told her Matthew and Justin were dead, and Jacob was in surgery at Regions Hospital. He was brain dead before she and Nathan arrived.

They showed footage taken of the boys from a Wal-Mart security tape -- just half an hour before their death.

"We could never imagine that we could lose almost half our family," Nathan said.

Connie gave some numbers: 17,000 people die in alcohol-related car crashes every year, and 250,000 more are injured.

But their presentation wasn't about statistics, she said. It was about the stories behind them -- and sending a warning to others.

The driver, who was sent to prison and is now in a supervised work-release program, had been previously pulled over four times for driving while impaired. The fifth time, he would change the Backstrom family's life forever.

"The next time you think about driving impaired, ask yourself 'Could you stand the thought of not hearing the voices of the people that you care for?'" Nathan said. "The hardest thing I've ever done in my life was to close those three caskets."

Through it all, the room was still and silent.

"This is probably the most attentive I've ever seen them. I'm even sure you could have heard a pin drop at times," said Marcine Elder, adviser of the Fulda FCCLA.

Lexy Fenske, a ninth- grader in the audience, can't yet drive, but said she knows she definitely won't drink and drive.

"It's terrifying what can happen to us," she said.

"They react to the pictures, the video from WalMart," Nathan said after the presentation "The reality hits pretty hard."

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