'I just share from my heart': A sister speaks out against drunken driving
Rylie Langer regrets that she turned down her brother's invitation on that fateful night. Now she wants something good to come of that regret.
The siblings had just finished their customary Friday evening pizza when her older brother, Tyler, suggested they watch a movie. Rylie, weary from basketball practice that afternoon, opted instead to go home and turn in early.
She was awakened after midnight by her mother. Tyler had been in a bad accident. He had gone drinking with a friend, and while speeding down a foggy road, collided head-on with a semi-trailer. The friend was killed and her brother, horribly injured, lingered in a coma.
Now, more than two years later, Rylie tells everyone she can about the consequences of that night, a cautionary tale of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Her brother, now 25, can't walk or talk or do many of the countless things people take for granted. His injuries included a traumatic brain injury.
Tyler was charged in connection with the death of his friend, Gabe Kemp. But when the extent of his permanently disabling injuries became known, the prosecutor dropped the charges.
"How he is right now is a life sentence," Rylie said.
Her mother quit her job to be his full-time caregiver and Rylie, a freshman at Minnesota State University Moorhead, goes home every weekend to Wadena, Minn., to help take care of her brother.
Rylie, who now battles depression as a consequence of her brother's accident, has had to accept that he will never be the person he was before.
"He's there," she said, referring to his mental abilities. He can read, write, comprehend. His memory is intact, except for the accident. "He remembers everything else," she said.
Tyler remains in fragile health, and complications often send him to the hospital. During one such episode, Rylie was torn: Should she go home to comfort her brother, or should she stay in class?
She agonized over the decision. She decided he would want her to finish her studies, so stayed. Then, while taking a psychology exam, Rylie had an idea: She would make a YouTube video about her brother's story, and she would make herself available for public talks.
The video features family snapshots of the two siblings, happy and healthy. But the narrative abruptly turns darker after the accident, with photographs of a bedridden Tyler, at first comatose, then conscious, but still tethered to tubes and monitoring wires.
She debuted the video on Dec. 14, 2016, the second anniversary of the accident. The message: "Please ... just don't drink and drive. This is real life. You aren't invincible."
After the video began spreading online, Rylie was contacted by the Otter Tail County Safe Communities Coalition, and invited her to give a presentation.
"So that got ahold of me," Rylie said, recalling her realization of a new way to reach audiences. "That's when speaking started."
Thus far, her talks have been small, but she's scheduled to address a large Moorhead Senior High School in May.
"I just share from my heart," she said. "The worst thing that people think can happen to them is they'll get arrested."
But one accident, as her brother's case shows, can have many ripple effects. A fleeting bad decision can have permanent consequences.
"I basically say one time, one DWI, one death is one too many," she said.