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posted: 2/21/2010 12:01 AM

A lesson worth learning and teaching

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If you're looking for a way to illustrate how drinking and driving ruins lives, the unfortunate truth is that there is no shortage of examples.

Last week's news of the sentencing of Kevin Schuh in the death of 15-year-old Monika Skrzypkowski was particularly heart-wrenching. The Mount Prospect teenager received a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to drunkenly driving the car that struck the girl who was crossing Elmhurst Road in Prospect Heights as she waited for her parents to pick her up from a party. He was eligible for up to 29 years behind bars.

So many lives have been affected by Schuh's decision to drive drunk that night. Skrzypkowski, the Hersey High School sophomore from Arlington Heights, died much too young. She left grieving friends and family, including her mother, Margaret, who sometimes calls for Monika just to hear her name spoken out loud.

Schuh was a 17-year-old college-bound Hersey senior when the accident occurred. Now 18, his adult life will wait for his prison sentence to finish and he will remain under the parole system's watch for several years. But it won't stop there. "In her death, she will always be part of your life," Margaret Skrzypkowski told Schuh. "She is as much a part of your family as our own."

There are many more whose lives should change because of this tragedy.

Anytime someone is asked to buy alcohol for an underage acquaintance, we hope they think of the 26-year-old who bought $95 worth of beer and vodka for the party at Schuh's girlfriend's home while parents were out of town.

We ask anyone who sees friends overindulging to think of how things would be different if someone could have stopped Schuh before he hit the road with his mother's car that night.

Parties happen when parents leave town and teens are unsupervised. It's not new. We all must be aware of that by now.

And everyone who enjoys a drink from time to time, teen or adult, must act responsibly, knowing that one bad decision can create a wake of destruction, regret, remorse and guilt.

"What does society deserve?" Judge John Scotillo asked at sentencing. "That the problem of drinking and driving be taken seriously. Until we take it seriously, we get exactly what we deserve - tragedies like this."

Teens are bombarded with messages and statistics about drinking and driving from groups such as SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions. They see movies showing the grisly results of tragic mistakes. Schools sponsor huge demonstrations and informational campaigns each spring before prom season begins.

It seems as if we're taking it seriously. Yet, these tragedies still happen. So what do we do now?

Start by asking the question that Monika's mother posed to the court during the sentencing hearing: "If you had to make a choice between your child dying or going to prison for 29 years, what would you choose?"

Then share the story of Monika Skrzypkowski and Kevin Schuh with your teen driver.