Fairland Family Fights To Make $1.5M Settlement Public For Son's Memory
FAIRLAND, Oklahoma - The parents of an Oklahoma teenager who was killed in alcohol-related crash have settled with the liquor store that sold their son alcohol before he died.
The Kerns family will get $1.5 million from The Woodshed liquor store. Such settlements are typically kept private, but the family says they fought to make it public with the hope it will serve as a lesson to other liquor stores and parents.
“Every day it happens. Over and over, we live it every day. Every day,” Donna Kerns said with tears filling her eyes.
“It's just total loss, it'll never go away for me,” her husband added.
There's no amount of time and no special words that can heal the broken hearts of Duane and Donna Kerns.
“So I come in here,” Donna said standing in her son Colton's room. “This is where I feel best.”
Her 17-year-old son's room is just as he left it before he died almost three years ago.
The memories are everywhere, Colton's medals, FFA jacket, hunting pictures and fiddles are still hanging on the wall.
“His first tooth, his first cast, his toddler Bible, everything will stay here just like this because he never leaves, he comes back,” Donna said. “He taught me how to share and how to care, he just didn't teach me how to say goodbye.”
Colton was killed in a crash the day before his junior prom at Fairland High School.
11/28/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Liquor Store Clerk Arrested For Selling To Teen Who Died Driving Drunk
The night before he died, Colton tried on the tux he'd saved up to buy for the dance he'd never attend; the outfit he'd be buried in instead.
“I said, 'Well put 'em on,' let me see what they look like,' and I thank God every day that I did cause I got a picture of him in 'em,” Duane said. “His mother never got see that until we buried him in 'em.”
Before the wreck, the high school junior was helping set up for prom and he was caught drinking vodka mixed with Mountain Dew.
Colton's parents said the superintendent had two of Colton's friends drive him home.
They said the school never called his parents, but Colton did, and by that time he was behind the wheel of his truck.
“He said ‘I know I'm trouble, I know I did wrong,' but he said 'I just want to be by myself for a little while before I come home' and he wouldn't tell me where he was at,” Duane said.
Colton had a blood alcohol level close to twice the legal limit when he crashed.
“We never had alcohol in the house, we talked to him about drinking and drugs,” Duane said. “All the talking in the world, with a teenager, I guess at some point he just decided he had to try it for his self.”
Duane said his son bought alcohol from The Woodshed liquor store from three separate clerks on five occasions.
“A lot of people tried run us down as bad parents for not knowing he was drinking, with the amounts he was buying,” Duane said. “But that's the deal, he wasn't drinking, he was taking it out there putting it out there under the bridge.”
His dad said he later learned Colton and his buddies were stocking up on booze for a prom after party.
He said the day of the crash was the first time his son had ever consumed alcohol.
“Colton's first time cost him his life. At that age everybody thinks they're invincible, nothing's ever gonna happen to me, but it does and it can,” Duane said.
His dad said Colton was carded and turned away from two gas stations before he tried The Woodshed liquor store in Afton.
“If they would have just ID'd him and turned him away, he may have never tried it again, he might still be here,” Duane said.
“I'm not saying my son was perfect, but I always say, if I was 17 and knew what I know now, I would be much wiser because we learn, we grow, we know what the adults were talking about now, but they don't, teens, they don't,” Colton's mom said.
The family sued.
They settled with the school district for an undisclosed amount, but they wanted the conditions of their settlement with the liquor store to be made public.
“If I can just save one family from going through what we've been through the last three years and will go through the rest of our life, then it will be worth it to me,” said Colton's dad.
“I wanted people to know what can happen and how your family can end quickly,” Donna said.
Part of the agreement is that all Woodshed employees must go through training with the ABLE commission and the liquor store must also pay the Kerns' $1.5 million.
“It was never about the money to us,” Duane said.
Never about money because all the money in the world could never wake Colton's parents from the nightmare they say they live ever day...which is why, each night, they can't wait to go to sleep.
“I sleep in here sometimes,” Donna said while crying in her son's room. “I have dreams, we save him. But really, if you think about it, he's saved.”
We did reach out to Rick Wood, owner of The Woodshed, but our calls have not been returned.
Two store clerks, Stacey Dixon and Roger Larsen, pleaded no contest to furnishing alcoholic beverage to a person under 21.
Dixon was sentenced to five years, with all but 90 days suspended. She spent 46 days in the Delaware County jail and is now under the supervision of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Larsen is currently serving time in prison for selling the liquor to Colton and a separate crime.