A former Mandan student sentenced to eight years in state prison after driving drunk and killing three of his friends spoke to teens at Mandan High School on Nov. 21.
"I want to stop you guys from making the same decision I did. I want you to learn from my mistake," said Taylor Berhow, 29.
Berhow gave about a 40-minute presentation to a room packed with students, teachers, staff and administrators about his life and the events leading to Oct. 29, 2011, or what he described as "the day life was turned upside down."
He wore a button-down shirt and spoke calmly and with assertion to the audience.
"Every single decision you make in life has a ripple effect," he told them.
The crash occurred on a two-way road near the McDonald's in south Mandan. A shrine is still displayed on the tree he crashed into on the 2300 block of Third Street Southeast. A sign reading "Think before you drink" and the names of the three men who died can be seen from the street.
Mark Andreson, who was principal of Mandan High School in 2011, said that memorial is a reminder of the lasting effects of the crash. Andreson said each year he brings in speakers to present on a variety of different topics at the school, including bullying, suicide and alcohol use. This year, he thought Berhow's presentation would have an impact on students.
"My hope is just to increase awareness about choices and at-risk behavior," Andreson said. "Things can happen in a second, and it can change your life forever.”
Berhow talked about the choices he made in school and how he started drinking during his sophomore year.
He was on the high school swim team, but was disqualified from competing his senior year after getting one count of minor in consumption and two counts of minor in possession, all within a period of about a month.
At 20, Berhow said he got in trouble with the law again for drinking underage. He turned 21 and went bar-hopping with a friend, who later drove drunk and died in a rollover vehicle crash.
"Usually losing a close friend like that would deter you from doing the same thing," he said. "My drinking increased and I could care less if I got behind that wheel … I was invincible. That’s what was in my mind, 'That’s not going to happen to me.’”
Berhow said six months after his friend died, he was charged with drunken driving and lost his license for six months. He got his license back, met a woman and had a daughter. They later broke up, and he began drinking again. Six months after the breakup the Oct. 29, 2011, crash happened.
Berhow had been drinking with some friends at a bar, blacked out and then woke up in a hospital. His friends and family in the hospital room wouldn't tell him what happened, and he couldn't remember. He thought maybe he hit a parked car. Later, a detective told him he was in a crash and there were three fatalities. He couldn't remember who was in the vehicle with him.
“(The detective) read off the names, and it was Trevor Erie, Charles Boehm and Eastman Nadeau," he said, adding that his other friend, Jarrod Turner, who also had been in the vehicle, was injured.
Berhow told the students his life was forever changed. He went to two of the friends' funerals and couldn’t bear to face their families.
“I lost it as soon as they started to lower him into the ground,” he said, of one of his friend's funerals. "He’s dead because of me."
Berhow told the students he, too, had a speaker in high school talk about alcohol use and teen safety, but he paid no heed.
"Well, guess what? Look where I’m at? I’m standing up here saying the same thing, because it happens,” he said. "I’ll be that broken record and tell you this happens. You’re not invincible."
Berhow was charged with three counts of manslaughter in 2012. He's currently at the Missouri River Correctional Center, and his projected release date is Aug. 27, 2019.
Berhow said he knew he wanted to share his story and talk with students after he gets out.
"I never thought I’d be able to do this while still incarcerated," he said, adding that this is the 24th presentation he's given.
The Mandan Chapter of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America invited Berhow to speak at Mandan High School after hearing him give a presentation at the FCCLA statewide conference at the Heritage Center in Bismarck.
“It’s such a big message to get across,” said Amber Daniel, a MHS junior and FCCLA member. "Our students need to know that drinking and driving is not a thing to do, and there’s big consequences for doing that."
Julia Ressler, also a junior, said Berhow's presentation was "inspirational." She had watched a documentary on the crash, made by KAT Communications.
Wyatt Kelim, a sophomore, said he also saw the documentary in school.
“The first time I saw it I cried; it’s hard,” he said. “I kind of put myself in his position, and thinking about my closest friends, if they were to pass away.”
Kelim said the presentation is something he will "never, ever forget."
“If I ever come in contact with a friend who drinks … If I’m ever put in the situation, of course, I’ll be their sober driver if they need it," he said.