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Courage nourished by consequences

Ashly Domeier and mother, Becci Leonard, sat down Wednesday to discuss Ashly's arrest last fall and the steps she's taking to educate her peers. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Ashly Domeier's 18th birthday was one to remember, but she has lost a crucial four-hour segment of that special day.

She woke up in the hospital feeling awful.

But unlike most teenagers, Ashly had more to feel bad about than any of her peers.

She'd recently been crowned Miss Park Rapids, and promised that she would fulfill her duties to the best of her ability to make the town proud.

There she was bedridden with alcohol poisoning, suffering from more than a hangover.

The guilt almost crushed her. She'd let down her friends, her family, but most importantly, her community

"I feel bad for the town because I know I'm a figure for the town and I didn't want to represent them in a negative way," the Park Rapids Area High School senior said Wednesday, two days after she pled guilty to two charges in court.

An ill-advised offer

"It was homecoming night and we hadn't planned on having a party or anything but a party got canceled that my friends knew of," she explained. "Everyone was scrambling to figure out what we were going to do. I said I could have it at this place" (a house she'd just moved out of.)

"We got there and things just got out of control," she said softly, shaking her head at the recollection. "We didn't plan on it happening."

She and her friend had planned to spend the evening in her new home.

"It was not the intention to have it go like that but it did. It was just four or five friends," Ashly said.

They found hard liquor in the home and began drinking shots.

"It was not the plan to get to that extent," she recalled of that night, Oct. 8.

Ashly was an inexperienced drinker.

"I think that was the problem because I didn't think it would hit and then it just hit," she said of the alcohol. "We were drinking shots of liquor. I did not know what I was doing. I've gone to one party prior to that and I was the sober person. So it was not something that was characteristic of me."

Officers were called to the Discovery Circle home at 4:40 a.m. for a report of an unresponsive female.

The complaint states Domeier's alcohol content was .122 percent. Another student, Caleb Abraham, 18, tested at .184 percent and was cited.

Three 17-year-olds had alcohol contents ranging from .064 percent to .10 percent. All five were cited for underage consumption and are students at Park Rapids Area High School.

Domeier and Abraham were treated at St. Joseph's Area Health Services for acute alcohol toxicity.

"I was very thankful (the police were called)," she said. "I was unresponsive. They had put me in the shower and the shower had gone cold and my body temperature was dropping a lot.

"My friend had the courage to call our boss, who we're very close with. She knew he was studying to be a police officer and he lived right by the house. So he came over and saw that I was unresponsive and another kid there wasn't doing very well so he called the police."

She woke up in the hospital wondering how she got there. Four hours of the evening were gone.

"I felt if I was able to present it to other kids and they can learn from it, that's a lot more beneficial," she said Wednesday.

"Hopefully I can help somebody else because it was a really scary experience. To not remember four hours. That was the part that really got to me. To almost die and not even remember, almost dying. It creeped me out. It could have all been over in one second. That's super scary and I want to tell people how scary and how real it was, so hopefully they won't have to do it themselves to figure it out."

Onward and upward

She ruined her 18th birthday. Her mother, Becci Leonard, said the family had planned a special celebration to honor Ashly's entry into adulthood.

No one told Ashly she needed to make amends. When the fog cleared she picked herself up and began anew.

"I knew what I had done and what the consequences were," she said. "I just had to accept it and realize I made a mistake and that it didn't define me but I had to learn from it. That was going to be the big difference.

"So I really tried to accept it the best I could and make it sound (cool) or downplay the situation but just to accept it as what it was and grow from it. And hopefully I did that the best I could."

Leonard, sitting next to her daughter, dabbed her eyes.

"You're making me cry," she told Ashly.

The teenager called the pageant officials first. She didn't want them reading about her misfortune in the newspaper. She relinquished her title and crown immediately.

Then she started with her fellow classmates who'd been at the party.

"It was really disappointing not only because I felt bad for the people involved, football boys (being suspended)... and also everything it caused with my parents, my mom. She was super stressed and worried and everyone else's parents were overwhelmed," she said.

By Monday morning, she walked into a school teeming with hurtful gossip.

"Everyone knew so it was hard to have people judging that situation and me at the same time," she said. "Because I know I'm not that person.

"I felt like I'd let them down, not only my classmates, but as Miss Park Rapids I felt I let down the town because I'm supposed to be a figure for that and I really felt bad for that. I felt bad for Little Miss Park Rapids, who I'd gotten a really strong bond with, to have that happen, to have to explain that, it wasn't good at all."

A forced education

Ashly was charged with Underage Consumption, Furnishing Alcohol to Minors and violating the county's year-old Social Host Liability statute. She was booked at the county jail and released.

Then came the court appearances, three in all.

"We did not realize with this social hosting law how it doesn't just have to be at your house," Leonard said of the law. "It can be at a public place. If someone said they were going to have this party and set it up and acted as the host, it can be in a public park, it can be a bonfire, it can be anything along that line. That was something that we learned. I think that was one of the things that caught us off guard. I don't think a lot of kids or parents understand that law. It doesn't mean you have to be hosting in your home or have a parent there that's throwing it."

Monday, Ashly pled guilty to two of the three charges, the hosting charge and underage consumption.

Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne had requested at least three days in jail, but even he seemed surprised by the poised young woman standing at the defense table.

"She's suggested speaking to others and preteens about alcohol and hosting," Ashly's public defender told the court. "Those would serve a higher purpose than jail."

"I really learned a lot from it," Ashly told Judge Paul Rasmussen in a clear voice. "I want to be able to talk to other teens about it."

Judge Paul Rasmussen sentenced her to 90 days in jail, suspended for one year, fined her $135 and ordered her to perform 40 hours of community service. She readily agreed.

Back to being a kid

Ashly continues to study hard. She's tentatively planning on attending college, maybe in Fargo, to study business and economics, next fall.

She works at a local pizzeria and loves the job.

"I learned a lot, about me and the laws," she said. "It just takes one time. You can sit back and think, 'Well those people go out and party all the time,'" remarking on the irony of getting caught at her first party. "But it just takes one time."

She's heartened by the fact that she can spend her adulthood overcoming one night of her childhood.

"Oh my gosh, very much," she agreed. "I'm not glad it happened but I'm thankful for the fact that it happened now when I had the support that I did around me and I wasn't alone to go through it.

"Going into college and knowing how many temptations will be there now I know that's not something I want to be involved with. I've seen how much more stress it can add."

"She's really a great kid and I'm proud of her," Leonard said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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