Some in the audience were ordered to attend by the Becker County DWI court.
Other attendees were members of the public, as well as, the family and friends of the panelists, who attended to give the event's storytellers support.
Regardless of their reasons for being there, each member of the audience couldn't help but be captivated by the intimate, heart wrenching details of the stories they were about to hear, which centered on addiction, alcoholism and drunk driving.
The Becker County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving held their first public victim impact panel of 2021 on Wednesday, March 17, St. Patrick's Day, at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes.
Nearly 35 people attended the almost three-hour event at the hotel with a majority being ordered to appear by the court. Those ordered to attend were required to pay a $50 fee for the program's cost. In return, they each received a certificate of attendance to present to their probation officer, or DWI court judge.
"I think it was a really good turnout," said Tara Griess, the Becker County MADD Victim Impact Panel coordinator. "The fight is really important."
The first presenter was Stefanie Hurt.
Hurt's best friend, Lindsay Marie Cardinal was killed when an impaired driver, driving a stolen GMC Yukon, crossed the center line going 80 m.p.h. in a 45 m.p.h. zone. The Yukon collided with Cardinal's Chevrolet Tahoe causing an impact speed of more than 120 m.p.h.
She was traveling with her young three children.
"In the world of crashes, a Tahoe versus a Yukon, no one is stronger than the other," said Hurt.
She added: "Lindsay was that amazing mother that always took the extra 30 seconds to make sure that five-point harness was done perfectly, only two fingers underneath each strap, the chest protector straight across the nipples. She did that to make sure that her babies were okay, always. But what she didn't plan for was to get hit head-on and have her own body crush her kids' bodies."
Evelyn, 14-months, and Wyatt, 4, seated in the back seat of the Tahoe, suffered serious injuries. The oldest daughter, Lilly, 5, was seated in the passenger's seat and suffered no injuries in the crash, Hurt described.
She said the outpouring of support from the community in the days ahead at the trauma center in St. Cloud was incredible with many people willing to help the family through the most difficult of times.
The impaired driver, Kevin Gordon Couch, succumbed to his injuries eight months later, according to the St. Cloud Times.
"I have often wondered, what would've happened, if (Couch) had heard a story like this," she said. "Would it have changed something for him? God, I hope so."
Hurt closed her presentation by telling the audience that they all had been given a second chance and they should learn from her story about what happened to the Cardinal family on Jan. 31, 2017.
Jenna Kavanagh was the second speaker at the event.
Kavanagh described how her alcoholism destroyed her marriage, her rights to her son were taken away and how she was left with nothing. Kavanagh moved into her parents basement and continued drinking heavily.
"On a daily basis, over and over again," she said, "I would wake up after passing out from being drunk to my mom feeling for a pulse because she didn't know if I was still alive."
Kavanagh said she drank 1.75 liters, or more, of vodka per day and she was "that mom" who would pick up her son from daycare drunk.
She was ordered by the court to take parenting classes, but she would show up to the classes drunk.
Kavanagh's ex-husband reported her to police as being dangerously intoxicated when she was in the parking lot of the high school about to attend a class.
She said she remembers thinking in that parking lot that her ex had saved her life.
Her blood alcohol concentration was 0.297 at the time of her arrest, nearly four times the legal limit.
"He was the first call I made from jail," she said. "And I just said, 'thank you,' His only explanation that he has given me to this day, was either I was going to kill somebody else, or I was going to kill myself."
Now, she has found a purpose in sharing her story about battling alcoholism with others in a hope the attendees will learn from her mistakes and make the necessary changes so they don't end up like her.
Tara Griess, the event organizer, spoke third.
She shared her own story about alcoholism, addiction and the cop who may have saved her life by pulling her over.
"Now, I am dedicating my life to change people's decisions about driving drunk," said Griess. "I am sober, 27-months sober, my mental clarity is so clear. I'm happy and I have the cutest little baby boy, (her cat) George, I'm pretty obsessed with him.
After the three panelists concluded their presentations, Anthony Vogt spoke during the question and answer portion of the panel. His testimonial focused on the financial cost of his drinking and losing his family over his alcoholism.
He said he has been sober for 23 months, but in his "hay day" he averaged about 60, 16-ounce, beers per week.
"Since I quit drinking, I have saved $10,700 that Seven Sisters isn't getting from me anymore," said Vogt.
When he quit, he said, his mental clarity returned and he began to have feelings again. Vogt told the group he use to drink to escape those things. However, his 30-years of drinking estranged him from his daughters.
"I made bad choices and it cost me everything," said Vogt. "I've got three daughters, I haven't seen them, and I have four granddaughters that I have never met."
He also admitted to the audience that he has no one to blame but himself.
Vogt said he intends to speak more, and put together his own presentation for future events in order to make amends for the hurt he has caused his estranged family.
The group plans on holding the panels at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes every few months going forward.
"Every time I speak, I'm essentially opening up a scar and I'm dumping salt in it, every time," said Hurt, after the panel. "But then, there's just the thought that maybe, just maybe, I saved one person's life tonight, and all I ask is for one person every night and that one family doesn't have to go through, what I've been through, so that's the reason why I do it."