Life's Lessons

A member of the band Chye performs during the opening of Wednesday’s assembly in the Scotland school gym, attended by more than 200 students from Scotland, Menno and Tripp-Delmont. Keith Becker spoke about the death of his teenage brother, Todd, during a drunk-driving crash and the sometimes fatal impact of life choices.

SCOTLAND — Keith Becker didn’t want to talk about his teenage brother’s death in a 2005 drunk-driving accident.

Instead, the Kearney, Nebraska, man wanted to talk about the life choices that led to the fatal accident for his late brother, Todd.

“It’s not important how he died,” Keith said. “It’s how he lived that got him to his death.”

But it wasn’t only Todd who made bad choices cutting his life far too short.

As a college student, Keith said he not only provided an example of the party life for Todd. He also provided the fake ID and the apartment for his younger brother to party.

“I started him on the way down (that path). And then I told him, it’s your senior year in high school, so live it up,” Keith said. “My brother’s death was influenced by my life.”

Keith shared his story Wednesday with more than 200 students from the Scotland, Menno and Tripp-Delmont high schools. He and the band, Chye, presented the assembly through the Todd Becker Foundation.

Keith quoted from Matthew 7:13: “Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

“Follow the narrow path of life,” he urged the students.

Some audience members would be deeply touched by the message, while others would just sit back and not feel any change, Keith Becker predicted.

“My hope is that some of you (students) are impacted by all of this when it’s over,” he said.

Keith showed his late brother’s senior photo on a large screen behind him.

“I’m not showing you his picture so you think Todd was cool and popular,” Keith said. “These photos represent his potential that kept him looking forward to each day of his life. Each person has the potential to make life worth living, just like Todd.”

Tragically, the senior photo intended for Todd’s graduation announcement instead adorned his casket at the funeral.

MAKING CHOICES

Todd participated in football and track at Kearney High School, which set a national record by winning 11 consecutive state track titles. He looked forward to his senior year as a pole vaulter and extending the state championship streak.

While working at a grocery store, Todd was approached by a man who had just left a church service. The stranger, impressed by his pastor’s message about life choices, felt an unexplained need to approach Todd. The stranger asked the teenager if he was concerned about his life choices and where he would go after his death.

Todd believed in doing whatever he wanted with his life — he started partying as a high school freshman — and was too young to worry about dying, Keith said.

“My brother lived life as if choices had no consequences,” he added. “It started with one step, then another step, then one more step.”

The final groundwork for the fatal crash was actually laid three weeks earlier, when Todd and two teammates were busted after a weekend party, Keith said.

Todd was charged with driving under the influence (DUI), while the two teammates were charges with minor in possession (MIP). The track coach refused to sweep the incident under the rug, instead pulling the boys from the first meet and threatening to kick them off the team if they drank during the season.

Todd’s parents grounded him indefinitely until his first court appearance. Todd stayed home the first two weekends, but he felt the need to party one more time before track season started.

He slipped out of the house and openly walked into a liquor store, where a surveillance camera showed he didn’t even need to produce a fake ID to purchase alcohol, Keith said.

A parking lot surveillance camera showed him putting the liquor into his car. He and the teammates got drunk, and Todd worried about missing curfew and getting arrested for another DUI.

“One of the other guys said (to Todd), ‘We’ll get you home.’ So at 12:27 a.m. Feb. 6, 2005, he buckled up in the back seat,” Keith said.

Todd never arrived home.

The driver and other passenger in the front seat survived the subsequent accident and fled the scene, Keith said. Meanwhile, Todd died alone in the car.

Keith was informed his brother was in an accident and arrived at the scene, horrified to see the body bag.

“I went into denial, saying this just couldn’t be happening,” Keith said, experiencing the stark reality at the funeral and burial.

“Hundreds of people gathered around the casket and dropped notes and flowers,” Keith said. “Then, everybody went home except two people. They threw dirt into his grave one scoop at a time and buried him in the ground at age 18.”

Keith blamed everyone else for his brother’s death — the liquor store clerk, the friend who was the driver, anyone connected with the accident.

Keith even questioned Todd’s life choices that led to his death. Keith changed his own life but still ran into what he called “the brick wall of bitterness.”

Keith said he did what he once considered unthinkable — going to the jail and forgiving the driver who was sentenced in Todd’s death and remained distraught about the incident.

In the process, Keith realized his own role in Todd’s death.

“I’m just as responsible as the driver of the car, and I need forgiveness,” he said. “Forgiveness doesn’t say it was all right. It’s a second chance to go back.”

Keith urged his young audience to make the right choices, or return to the right path. Making such a commitment can be tough and also lonely, he advised.

“Stick together, come together and help each other out,” he said. “Keep going down this narrow path, and your school won’t be the same.”

The auditorium remained still, with some of the teenagers crying. A number of them remained afterwards, speaking with counselors about the assembly and their own life situations.

Solemn Reaction

Scotland High School freshman Gage Fetters sat quietly afterwards, saying he didn’t know what to expect before the assembly. However, he found a powerful message not only in Todd’s death but in Keith’s admission that he pushed his brother into a bad life and, ultimately, his death.

Scotland secondary principal Chris McGregor said the Todd Becker Foundation approached the school a year ago about hosting the presentation and inviting other schools.

Because of the Biblical and religious references, parents could opt for their students not to attend the assembly, McGregor said. However, the percentage of participating students remained high, he said.

The Todd Becker Foundation contacted the Tripp-Delmont and Menno schools, and Scotland welcomed sharing the program, McGregor said.

“I thought it was wonderful,” he said. “What really struck me was after the video, when he told the students ‘It was me (who led to my brother’s death).’ I didn’t see it coming, and it was even more powerful for the kids.

“I was surprised how quiet it was in the gym. You could have heard a pin drop. We have some who stayed afterwards to talk with counselors, and they’re still here an hour later.”

McGregor hopes that the students gained a great deal from the assembly.

“Sometimes, kids make bad choices, and they have to pay for it,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to say, ‘I did it. I’m responsible and I have to live with this.’”

In the end, it may be a life-saving discovery, McGregor said.

“If it affected people in a way that they open up and learn from it, that’s great,” he said. “Hopefully, this helps somebody turn their life around and go down the right path.”

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

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