The words brought the room to a hush: "I am responsible for Courtney not having a mom," Craig Barnd said as the cameras rolled.
Barnd admitted he was drunk when he was behind the wheel nearly 14 years ago and got in a crash that killed Nancy Robling, leaving four siblings without a mother, including Courtney Pogones.
At a Tuesday press conference to announce a new DWI campaign, Barnd and Pogones met for the first time since the fateful events of Jan. 31, 2002, the night Pogones, then 12, was waiting for her mother to pick her up from basketball practice in Jordan, Minn. Her mother never made it.
Barnd was arrested and charged with drunken driving. Pogones, who now is a mother herself, still feels the scars and pain from losing hers.
"Life has gone on, but it has not been the same," Pogones, of Austin, Minn. said. "Lives were lost and families were changed. I don’t want another little girl to go through life without her mom because of one bad decision. That is why I stand here to say enough is enough. I ask Minnesotans to pledge to drive sober, today and every day.”"
Pogones' plea for drivers like Barnd to put down the bottle or arrange for a designated driver comes a day before one of the most dangerous periods on the roads. More than half of fatalities recorded on Thanksgiving are alcohol-related.
As the holidays roll around, the Department of Public Safety will kick off another DWI enforcement that begins Wednesday and runs through Jan. 2. The goal is is to prevent tragedies such as Barnd and Pogonoes don't have to happen. Last year 88 people died in crashes involving by a drunk driver. Another 25,258 were arrested for DWI.
"We want to end drivers driving drunk," said Lt. Tiffani Schweigart of the State Patrol. "We want no more families torn apart."
Drinking and driving was a common thing for Barnd, until the night he hit and killed Robling. Now he has been sober for the past eight years.
"I was a daily drinker. I had a bottle in the vehicle and I thought I did it pretty well," he said. "I deal with a lot of guilt and shame because of this. The choices I made caused a life. The Roblings and other family members live with this pain every day."
Barnd, whose blood alcohol content on the night of the deadly crash was .16 percent, never thought something like this would happen to him. Now speaks to groups to keep others from traveling that same path.