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Father Relives a Parent's Worst Nightmare, Over and Over

Tombstones On Grassy Field In Cemetery Against Sky

In 2013, while driving drunk, John Markle made a fatal choice that left his eight-month-old daughter dead. In the five years since, the grieving father has relived that night hundreds of times as he's shared his story with rooms full of strangers.

The Star Tribune has published a harrowing account of the tragedy. After having consumed almost ten beers that evening, Markle began the ten-minute drive back to his family's home. Along the way, he decided that his young children would enjoy it if he drove out onto a frozen lake.

With his wife imploring him not to do it, John Markle edged the family's SUV onto the lake. The spot where the vehicle went through the ice was less than a mile from the Markle's house.

As the water rose, Mandy punched at the passenger window before she and Jon found the button to unlock the doors manually. She leaned her petite frame against the console and pushed the door open with her feet.

“Get out,” Jon ordered. He would unbuckle the girls and hand them to her. He turned around and saw Isabelle, the 2½-year-old. She was in a front-facing car seat, screaming as the frigid water lapped over her feet.

Jon unlatched the two buckles and lifted her onto the windshield. Mandy grabbed the toddler and headed for shore.

As a retired firefighter who lived nearby helped pull Mandy and Isabelle to safety, Jon dove back into the freezing water to rescue Tabitha who was strapped into her car seat.

The first time Jon dove back into the submerged car, Tabitha’s face was barely above the water. Her car seat was facing the rear. Jon yanked on the handle to release the seat from its base, but it wouldn’t budge. He yanked again and again as water filled the car.

“It wasn’t long before she was under water,” Jon recalled.

When he couldn’t hold his breath any longer, he surfaced, inhaled the cold air and dove back to try again.

It still wouldn’t release.

Jon surfaced a third time then dove again, pushing his way to the back of the SUV to unlatch the buckles across Tabitha’s waist and chest. He couldn’t free her.

“Her eyes were open, looking out the back window,” he said. “I saw bubbles from her nose and mouth.”

Two weeks after the couple's third daughter was born, Jon pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular manslaughter. Instead of sentencing Jon to prison, Judge Jay Quam "ordered Markle to tell his story 100 times to groups such as first-time DWI offenders and high school students. Jon’s real punishment would be his life of regret."

Jon Markle entered Alcoholics Anonymous and hasn't had a drink of alcohol since that night. Having passed the required 100 times almost two years ago, he and his wife also continue to share the story of their family's most tragic night. Through the tragedy, the couple's marriage has strengthened as they worked and continue to work through their grief together.

Even with the good that has come out of the tragedy, Jon Markle continues to live with the awful thing that he did. And telling the story is a painful reminder of his crime. Speaking to the Star Tribune, Jon confessed, "I can never make amends for what I did. It will haunt me for the rest of my life."

Jon Markle relives that night over and over in the hopes that others will hear his story and make different decisions than he did that night.