The story of Leeslyee Huerta and Nick Chodzko is amazing. On so many levels.
Amazing that Leeslyee found the strength to overcome her depression her hate toward Nick, the drunken driver who put put her in a wheelchair for life.
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Amazing that she was not only able to forgive the driver but become friends with him after realizing his apology in court was sincere. "He didn't read it from a piece of paper, so I knew it came from his heart," Leeslyee told Josh Stockinger in the story that ran on Friday's front page.
Amazing that Nick made the best of a horrific situation. While his criminal case was pending, he helped buy a specially equipped van for Leeslyee's family. And after he dodged a bullet -- four years of probation but no prison time -- he's been a stalwart in working with the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists and talking to high school groups about the perils of drinking and driving.
Amazing how students at Metea Valley High School in Aurora and the community responded to one of Nick's talks on the eve of the school's prom. Leeslyee, he said, will never get to go to a prom because of me. So moved was their audience, they set about making her dream come true. On Friday, a host of businesses and individuals donated their services to get Leeslyee, 23, ready for and to the prom as a guest of honor. They include Limos without Limits LTD; Black Tie Tuxedos Naperville; Crown Royalty Pageant Resale; Eirabella Salon Services, Amber Moore (nails), Crystal Wilson (hair), Andrew's Floral Couture, Alexis Griffith (purse, shawl and bracelet), Joy Ross (compact, jewelry and "girlie items"), Francesca's Passaggio and Outback restaurants, Metea staff members Alena Jirgis-Edwards and Carrie Wrona.
And, at the risk of overusing the word "amazing," it's worth noting Josh Stockinger's performance in getting the story in Friday's paper was pretty remarkable, too. Josh already had filed a news story Thursday morning and was planning to get ready for a 5 p.m. interview with Todd Rundgren. (That's right: We're jacks of all trades at the Daily Herald. Josh is a big music fan and frequently interviews musicians coming to town for our Time out! section.)
Josh came to me about 12:30 p.m. Thursday because he had just heard, through AAIM, the story of Leesylee and Nick. It would have been ideal to take our time, interview all the principals, arrange for photos, get some video. Probably a two-day project. Josh accomplished all that in about four hours. To be sure, some luck was involved: He was able to get Leeslyee and Nick on the phone, while Joy Ross, assistant principal at Metea, and AAIM's Lorraine Wesolowski, who helped arrange their first meeting, filled in the other details.
So, with the reporting end out of the way, Josh made the call to Rundgren, who has been writing, performing and producing music since 1968. (Favorite Todd tidbit: He's sick of performing his biggest hit, "Hello, It's Me." He was 18 when he wrote it and was pining over some long-forgotten high school sweetheart. More details, of course, in an upcoming Time out!)
Despite all this stellar work, Josh's day wasn't quite finished. Could you perhaps do the WBBM interview tonight, I asked as gently as possible. He said yes, of course. Turns out, though, the station canceled our weekly spot. Some nonsense about being busy with the Bears' No. 1 draft pick.
Still, I thought Josh's amazing day was worthy of consideration for the Daily Herald's monthly award of excellence. So, bosses, please consider this my nomination.
And to Leeslyee and Nick, Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, the Metea Valley community and businesses: You're amazing, too.