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Driver in crash that killed Cloquet man had 0.41 BAC

A Two Harbors native who drove the wrong way on the Highway 61 Expressway between Duluth and Two Harbors in July, causing a head-on crash that claimed his life and the life of a 20-year-old Cloquet man, had a blood-alcohol content more than five times the legal limit, authorities said.

Philip Bergerson, 63, a longtime Minnesota Power employee from Two Harbors whose current residence was listed as Bonita Springs, Fla., was traveling north in the southbound lanes just before 11 p.m. on July 11 and struck a southbound car driven by 20-year-old Cole Drechsler near Knife River, the Minnesota State Patrol reported last week. The highway is a four-lane, divided expressway where the crash happened.

Cole’s mother, Dawn Drechsler, said she was devastated when she learned exactly how intoxicated Bergerson was when he caused the accident.

“You suspect alcohol was involved, but when you actually hear, plus that the level was so high … yes, it was devastating,” she said Tuesday. “This irresponsible act of someone has killed our son and taken him from us.

“Cole had such a bright future — we know he would have changed the world.”

The Patrol said Bergerson had a blood-alcohol content of 0.41 percent — more than five times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a blood-alcohol content of 0.31 percent or higher can be life-threatening and cause loss of consciousness, alcohol poisoning and significant risk of death. NIAAA is a part of the National Institutes of Health.

Cole Drechsler was in critical condition at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth for several days after the accident and died from those injuries on July 15. Cole’s passenger and cousin, Sarah Buscher, 19, also of Cloquet, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, according to the Patrol. A 2013 Cloquet High School graduate, Cole was well known in the Cloquet area as one of the “Drechsler triplets” and many in the community celebrated his life and colorful personality by participating in the Rotary’s Color Run the week after the accident. Cole was attending the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, studying to be a physician’s assistant.

When the Patrol released the news of Bergerson’s blood alcohol content, Cole’s brothers posted a lengthy note on the Facebook link to the Duluth News Tribune story:

“Please never drink and drive, you not only endanger yourself but others around you. I will miss Cole Drechsler every day and I will have to live without my brother now for the rest of my life. … So here’s to Cole. He was the life of the party and one who always helped, made you laugh, and made you feel important and loved. … The ‘Triple Threat’ will never be the same without you.”

Dawn Drechsler said she wanted to thank community members for their support.

“Without the faith, love and support of our wonderful community, this would be unbearable,” she said. “‘Thank you’ does not say enough, but thank you. It’s in instances like this that true love and support comes to the surface, takes over and carries you.

“I know Cole is with our Lord and that brings so much comfort.”

The Patrol said it still is unclear where Bergerson turned on to Highway 61 on the night of the crash; the accident reconstruction report has not yet been completed. Sgt. Neil Dickenson, Patrol spokesperson, said he expects the report to be filed in the next few weeks.

Dawn said she hopes others will learn from the tragedy.

“If someone chooses not to drink and drive because of this story, that’s what we want,” she said. “If there’s a positive impact, one life saved, that’s what Cole would want too.”

In a message to the wider community, she also wanted to encourage people to take time to enjoy what they have.

“Take a few moments each day, pause and look around you at the beauty and the gifts — the love, the people — and be thankful. Live each moment as if it were your last, because it can change in an instant.”

Dawn Drechsler asked that anyone with information on the accident please contact her. Emails can be sent to news@pinejournal.com and will be forwarded from there.

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