Judges tell teens: Bad decisions can make prom a time of regret
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org May 2, 2012 3:38PM
Kane County Judge Clint Hull speaks Wednesday in front of an image at Larkin High School of Caitlin Wiess, a Larkin student who was killed in 2003 by a drunk driver. Hull and Kane County Judge Susan Boles presented "7 Reasons to Leave the Party," a program of the Illinois Judges Association designed to inform high school students of the many ramifications that drinking and driving can have on their lives. May 2, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 4, 2012 11:36AM
ELGIN — Judges Susan Boles and Clint Hull showed a photo of Caitlin Weese, then a photo of her car, a dark-colored four-door with the front driver’s side smashed in.
They showed a photo of Brett Petschow, then a photo of the sporty little red car in which he had been a passenger, upside-down, its hood crumpled by a pole.
Hull, an associate judge in Kane County’s felony court division, said those aren’t the pictures of prom night, of the last few weeks of their senior year of high school, that he wants Larkin High School students to look back on.
“We know this is an exciting time for you guys. We’re excited for you. We want you to have a good time,” he said.
“When you look at these pictures, what we want you to say is, ‘This is a night I’ll never forget,’ in a good way. ‘This is a night I’ll never forget,’ not ‘I’ll never forget that night.’”’”
Hull and Boles presented a program called “7 Reasons to Leave the Party””on Wednesday morning at Larkin.
The program, presented at schools statewide by the Illinois Judges Association, informs students about the legal and personal consequences of drinking and driving, taking drugs and having sex, according to ija.org.
Boles, the presiding judge in Kane County’s juvenile court division, said the association started the program about five years ago out of the“frustration judges feel “any time a young person hits the courthouse steps in any of the 102 counties in Illinois.”
It’s one of many programs Larkin has offered in the weeks leading up to prom and graduation, according to Sjouke Brown, sophomore English teacher and junior class sponsor.
Larkin’s prom this year is Friday, May 11, and graduation is Saturday, May 26.
Students have many activities coming up and many choices to make, the teacher said. In addition to prom and graduation, that includes after-prom, the senior picnic, the senior boat trip and graduation parties, she said.
And, Brown said, she wants students “just to realize it’s OK if I don’t participate in everything. It’s OK if I offend somebody.””
Reality of death
Both Caitlin and Brett had sat through presentations in the Larkin auditorium like students did Wednesday, eaten in the same cafeteria, walked the same hallways, Hull said.
In 2003, prom was coming up, Caitlin’s graduation party was set and her sister’s wedding would be two weeks after that. She would turn 18 the next month. All she needed was a new outfit to wear to the senior boat trip.
But her car was hit head-on by a drunk driver, and she never returned from the outlet mall in Huntley where she had gone shopping for that outfit, the judge said. Instead of going to her graduation party, her friends and family went to her wake.
In 1999, Brett, who just had graduated, got into a car after a party with an acquaintance who had been drinking. That acquaintance entered a curve on Plank Road, then exited the roadway, hitting a pole and flipping the car, the judge said.
Brett was thrown from the car. He died of asphyxiation when the car landed on him.
“Death is a reality. It may not feel that way, but it is a reality,”” Hull said.
In fact, during the prom and graduation season — April through June — in 2005 alone, 676 students under the age of 21 died nationwide in alcohol-related accidents, Boles said. That’s about how many students are in the senior class at Larkin, she noted.
“We actually dread this time of year,”” Hull said.
Lots to loose
Death is one of the seven reasons Boles encouraged students to leave a party where poor decisions are being made. That can be before prom, at prom, after prom or the day after prom, she said.
Other reasons include a criminal record, which doesn’t disappear once a student turns 18, but “follows young people,” she said. Students also can lose trust, privacy, money, driving privileges (even if they are not old enough to drive at the time), and time (“Your time becomes my time”).
Take, for example, an after-prom party at a student’s house, Hull said. Maybe the parents took those students’ keys and provided alcohol, he said. Maybe several students brought pot. Maybe an 18-year-old and 16-year-old have sex, and somebody else surprises them and snaps a cell phone photo, thinking it’s funny.
Neighbors could call the police to break up a noisy party, or, Boles said, students would be surprised how many times parties are reported by fellow students’— classmates who were not invited or may not like the host. Teenagers can get pregnant, or parents can find out they are having sex and press charges, Hull said.
Anybody within arm’s length of the alcohol can be charged with possession, Hull said. They also can be charged with consumption.
Because the age of consent is 17, the 18-year-old can be charged with criminal sexual abuse, the judge said. The cell phone photographer could be charged with sexting, harassment and pornography. Both could have to register as sex offenders.
Even if a student asks his girlfriend to hold a small amount of marijuana in her purse for him, both can be charged with delivery, he said.
And if a student is pulled over and charged with a DUI, the average cost of prom goes from $600 to $6,000, Hull said.
“Some of that stuff was surprising,””said Kristine Jackson, 18, of Elgin, after the presentation.
She wouldn’t get into a car with a driver who had been drinking, and she wouldn’t hesitate to call her parents to pick her up, she said.
But still, 19-year-old Edgar Lugo, also of Elgin, said, “One person can mess up everything, even if you’re not involved.””