Parents demand charges over son's death at underage drinking party in Clearwater County

The parents of 15-year-old Dennis Goodwin Jr. say their son's BAC was .314, and that their son choked to death from vomiting after passing out at an underage drinking party.

Dennis Goodwin Sr. and his wife Sara open up about the loss of their son Dennis Goodwin Jr.
Matt Henson / WDAY News

BAGLEY, Minn. — A family on the White Earth Reservation is grieving and calling for justice after their teenage son was found dead at an underage drinking party back in March.

Police have confirmed there is an open and active investigation into who may be held responsible.

Dennis Goodwin Jr. was celebrating his 15th birthday on March 3 and just 36 hours later was found unresponsive in a bedroom at a home on the reservation.

"I wish I would have seen him before he left that night (...), but I didn't know it would be the last day I'd see him," said his mother Sara Goodwin.

Known as "Baby D" to his parents and six brothers and sisters, Dennis Goodwin Jr. died shortly after arriving at the hospital.


His parents said the autopsy showed the 15-year-old's blood alcohol level was .314, nearly four times the legal limit to drive.

"His blood alcohol level was so high it caused him to puke and it aspirated back in and that's what the cause of death was," Sara Goodwin said.

His parents said they were unaware their son drank alcohol. They claim there were adults and nearly a dozen minors present at the home their son was at.

The Clearwater County Sheriff's Office confirmed there is an open criminal investigation and promised it will be "thorough."

"I would have never let him go if I knew he drank over there at all, period," said Dennis Goodwin Sr.

His parents are demanding someone be prosecuted for their son's death, whether for supplying alcohol or hosting.

"He made that choice to drink, you don't leave that choice for a child to make," Sara Goodwin said.

In the two months since his death, his parents are working hard to keep his memory alive in a more positive light.


They've adopted a highway to keep clean, and they awarded the first annual Dennis Goodwin Jr. Memorial Scholarship to Caleb Neeland, who is graduating from Bagley High School and will study psychology at Minnesota State University Moorhead in the fall.

"He always talked about what he wanted to be when he was older. He always told me he wanted to be a welder," Sara Goodwin said.

With only memories left, his parents said they will continue to push for accountability to help bring a little bit of ease and comfort to this tragedy.

"I want to see justice done, but either way, nothing is ever going to bring him back," Sara Goodwin said.

Clearwater County Sheriff Darin Halverson said the investigation should wrap up in about two weeks. The case file will then be turned over to the Clearwater County prosecutor to decide if any charges will be filed.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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