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Hunting for a cause: Dylan Mentele memorial

Participants of the first Dylan Mentele Memorial Pheasant Hunt release balloons in his memory prior to the hunt Saturday morning in Alexandria. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 1 / 2
The family of Dylan Mentele stand in front of participants of the first-ever Dylan Mentele Memorial Pheasant Hunt on Saturday morning in Alexandria. Pictured from left are Dylan's brother, Brandon, sister Hailee, mother Melissa and father Kelly. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic) 2 / 2

ALEXANDRIA — An Alexandria mother has turned her grief into action.

Melissa Mentele and her family hosted a pheasant hunt Saturday in Hanson County, drawing in more than 30 people whose goal wasn't necessarily to bag a bird.

Instead, participants hoped to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.

And for Mentele, it was personal.

In June 2016, her son, Dylan, was killed in a crash involving a drunk driver in rural Davison County, in an event Mentele said "stole his future."

"Drinking and driving took away his whole future," Mentele said Saturday. "He never had a chance."

In the early morning hours of June 25, 18-year-old Mentele was a passenger in a vehicle driven by then-18-year-old Tate Thompson, of Ethan. Thompson failed to negotiate a curve and crashed into several large trees, according to police reports. Mentele was ejected upon impact and pronounced dead at the scene.

Thompson fled the scene and when he was later located by police, he admitted to drinking vodka earlier in the night before getting behind the wheel and driving himself, Mentele and three other passengers. All five passengers were injured, one of whom sustained life-threatening injuries.

Thompson was sentenced in April to nine years in prison.

After spending plenty of time grieving, Mentele decided to act, planning and putting together the weekend hunt.

Dylan was an avid hunter, she said, and his family and friends felt the best way to honor his memory was with an event he would have enjoyed.

Dozens of sweatshirts in orange, gray and black were distributed to participants and members of the community, with a picture of Dylan on the front and "Don't drink and drive" printed across the back.

Money raised from registration fees and sweatshirt orders will go toward buying Christmas presents for children at Sanford Children's Hospital and local families in need, Mentele said.

Prior to the start of the hunt, participants each released a star-shaped balloon in Dylan's memory, sharing stories, laughs and memories as they did it.

And if just one person is dissuaded from drinking and driving by her son's story, Mentele said she knows her purpose has been served.

"He had just graduated and had a plan to go to Mitchell Technical Institute, and he obviously is never going to get to do that," Mentele said. "But hopefully we can help make sure other kids get to follow their dreams."