Members of the Aurora Police and Fire Departments tend to a student actor during "Under the Influence" at Metea Valley High School on Tuesday, April 16. The program is intended to show teens the dangers of drinking and driving. Jane Donahue | For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 18, 2013 12:45PM
Seniors at Metea Valley High School received a sobering lesson during the “Under the Influence” safety program held at the Aurora campus on Tuesday. The program, in its second year, allows students to see first-hand what can happen when people drink and drive.
“We feel that this is an amazing opportunity for students to realize the impact one indiscretion can have on their lives and the lives of others,” said Assistant Principal Joy Ross.
Nearly 700 students and teachers gathered in the gymnasium to listen to Leslie Huerta, 24, who was paralyzed after her car was hit by a drunk driver in 2007.
“When they told me the news I cried,” said Huerta, of Bolingbrook. “I was about to graduate and I was thinking (about what) my future was going to be like. All my dreams just vanished in seconds.”
Huerta shared details about the daily struggles she faces as a result of the accident. It’s an accident that could have been prevented if the drunk driver had not gotten behind the wheel.
“Please don’t drink and drive,” Huerta said. “It’s OK to have fun — I am not telling you not to go out — just don’t drink and drive. God bless you all.”
The teen’s message is one Derek Coleman, 18, said he will always remember.
“I was speechless after hearing her story,” said the senior. ”I hope everyone who hears about this knows not to drive under the influence or have any distractions while driving. All my prayers and thoughts are with her.”
After listening to Huerta, teens headed to the school’s parking lot where an “accident” was staged.
Under the direction of the Aurora police and dire departments, and support from Lifestar Helicopter Services and the Kane County Coroner’s office, students witnessed a tragic car crash simulation, involving 12 teen actors who were on their way home from prom.
“It was surreal,” said Coleman, who played one of the teens involved in the crash. “This shows how Metea can get to the hearts of their students and how much respect they have for us. They really want us to be safe on and off the roads, inside and outside of the school.”
Ross, who coordinated the event, said “Under the Influence” offers an important message.
“I think most off all, I hope they take away the fact that this could happen to them,” said Ross. “Leslie was them. She was 18, a senior, looking forward to the same things that they are. She goes out one night and she is never the same. I hope that is something that resonates with them and helps them to be conscious and make the right choices.”
Christina Mejia shared the sentiment.
Her 20-year-old daughter Jessica was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. She was at Metea on Tuesday to share her story with students at the Aurora school.
“I want to reach out to people and make a difference,” said Mejia, of New Lenox. “Just don’t do it. You are not in the right state of mind when you are drinking. You think you can drive and then you kill someone — or leave someone paralyzed — and change their life and their families’ lives.”
Student Enrique Rodriquez suggested the Class of 2013 view the assembly as a challenge.
“I look at this as a challenge and many of you guys should, too,” said Rodriquez, “a challenge to be better human beings and make better decisions when we are called upon.”