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Driving the message home: Event at Red River High School reminds students not to drive distracted

When Lynn Mickelson speaks to groups of young people about drunk driving, he doesn't intend to judge them for drinking. He only wants them to understand how one choice to get behind the wheel drunk can drastically alter their lives or someone else's.

Deputy Jake Lanes runs a field sobriety test on Red River High School senior Bryce Walker during Tuesday's all-day event educating students on safe driving. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Deputy Jake Lanes runs a field sobriety test on Red River High School senior Bryce Walker during Tuesday's all-day event educating students on safe driving. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

When Lynn Mickelson speaks to groups of young people about drunk driving, he doesn't intend to judge them for drinking. He only wants them to understand how one choice to get behind the wheel drunk can drastically alter their lives or someone else's.

The message hits close to home for Mickelson. His daughter, Allison Deutscher, her husband, Aaron Deutscher, their unborn child and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, of West Fargo, N.D., were killed in 2012 by a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on Interstate 94.

"(There are) three, four chairs at our table that are empty at holidays," Mickelson said. "That hurts. That hurts a lot."

Mickelson shared his story Tuesday with students at Red River High School as part of an all-day event to educate children about safe driving. He said he knows his message probably won't reach every student, but if his story can persuade just one to make responsible driving choices, he said that's enough. His advocacy efforts in the aftermath of his daughter's death helped pass "Brielle's Law" in 2013, a North Dakota law implementing harsher penalties for drunk driving, especially for repeat offenders.

Sarah Shimek, the district's character education and prevention coordinator and one of the event's organizers, said the event at Red River was timed to remind students about safe driving before prom and graduation as a preventive measure. Central High School will hold the same event Wednesday.

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"We wanted to do an event that hit all of the students at both high schools," she said. "And it was about all (distracted driving)."

Other activities during the day included a rollover accident simulator and the chance to drive go-karts while texting or wearing goggles that mimicked being drunk. Some students also recreated accident scenes to show how serious they can be. Representatives from AAA North Dakota, Altru, the Grand Forks Fire, Police and Sheriff's Departments, the North Dakota National Guard, Norman Funeral Home, the North Dakota Highway Patrol, and district school resource officers all participated in the event, talking to students about distracted driving.

There to set a compelling scene was a display of the car Allison, Aaron and Brielle Deutscher were in when the drunk driver hit them. Mickelson chose to leave Brielle's car seat and diaper bag in the vehicle as they were at the time of the accident to reinforce the situation's reality.

Red River senior Prem Thakker said he believes Tuesday's event was a poignant way to remind students about safe driving after they finish driver's education programs.

"(When) presenters like we have here really talk about their experiences, you really start to realize how easy it is for an accident to happen to anyone, especially if you're young," he said.

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