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Commentary: 'You're not supposed to lose your kids'

Jim Shaw

FARGO — It was six years ago this weekend on a beautiful summer evening in North Dakota...

— When tragedy struck. The Deutscher family of West Fargo was driving on Interstate 94, 33 miles west of Jamestown, heading to visit relatives in Bismarck. Suddenly, and without warning, a pickup truck was heading towards them, traveling the wrong way. The drivers of both vehicles quickly tried to steer away, but it was too late. The head-on collision left no survivors.

Dead at the scene were 34-year-old Aaron Deutscher, his wife 36-year-old Allison Deutscher, and their 18-month-old daughter Brielle. Allison was also three-and-a-half-months pregnant. The driver of the pickup, 28-year-old Wyatt Klein of Jamestown, was also killed. Klein had just left a local bar and was drunk. His blood-alcohol level was .25. That's three times the legal limit.

On the night of the accident, two North Dakota state troopers knocked on the door of the Colfax, N.D., home of Lynn and Donna Mickelson, Allison's parents. "I couldn't believe it. It was such a shock," Lynn said. "The hardest words I ever heard in my life are when they said nobody survived."

Since that tragedy, Lynn has taken the Deutscher's smashed and mangled car to dozens of schools, safety fairs and conferences throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. His message: Make wise choices, and realize that making bad choices can have disastrous consequences.

Lynn also worked to tighten up North Dakota's drunk driving laws, but says those laws remain dangerously weak.

"North Dakota has such an acceptance of drinking and driving and it's scary," he said. "The penalties and fines in this state are a joke."

Beyond Lynn's outstanding efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, Lynn did something extraordinary recently. He and his wife Donna met with the parents of Klein, the driver of the vehicle that killed his family. Lynn reached out to them, and they met at a Jamestown church.

"We hugged and cried. It was a wonderful feeling," Lynn said. "All four of us sat for over two hours talking, laughing and crying. There was a lot of healing. A lot of closure. So important."

Lynn said Wyatt's parents feel terrible about the accident, and they have been living in hell. "They were very happy to be reassured that they were not condemned by us. Why would we?" Lynn said. "They are no different than my wife and I. They lost their son, just like we lost our daughter. You're not supposed to lose your kids."

Lynn will stay in touch with them. He has been classy and determined throughout this nightmare.

"I think about it every day," Lynn said. "Tears come often. Sometimes many times a day. The hurt will never go away. I don't want their losses to be in vain. I'm trying to make some good out of the bad."

He is certainly succeeding at that.