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updated: 5/14/2012 5:10 AM

2 very different stories of teen drinking collide

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The irony wasn't lost on one of our editors.

One day after a drunken driving victim was a special guest at Metea Valley High School's prom, he noticed, something less inspiring occurred not far away: Twenty-six teens were charged with underaged drinking at a party held after the Naperville North High School prom. The parents of one of the teens are accused of hosting the party and providing the alcohol.

Just before their prom, Metea students heard the story of Leeslyee Huerta, who uses a wheelchair as the result of a drunken-driving accident five years ago. She was in the audience when the man who put her there, 27-year-old Nick Chodzko, told how his decision to drink and drive resulted in a head-on crash that permanently injured Leeslyee. Nick's remorse and his apology in court to Leeslyee struck her as genuine, and now the two are friends. He's also one of the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists' regular speakers at prom time, when many schools do what they can to promote the perils of drinking and driving. The Metea community was so moved by the story of Nick and Leeslyee, they pulled out the stops to provide a prom night she wouldn't forget.

By all accounts, the Aurora high school students were deeply moved by the story as well. Moved enough to stay away from prom-night drinking? No way to know. But from next door in Naperville came a story we've reported all too often. Police were called to the address of the party -- at 2:40 a.m. April 29 -- because of complaints of neighborhood vandalism. News of the 28 arrests did not appear until Thursday's editions because we had gotten wind of it for the first time a day earlier.

I'm not complaining, mind you, that Naperville police did not issue a news release on the party bust. Few, if any, police departments do. But it did bring to mind a time when Naperville pulled out the stops to try to curb underage drinking.

Many in the city were shaken by the death of a popular Naperville Central High School student who died in a car crash more than a decade ago. The underage friend who gave her a ride was legally drunk.

At that time, in the early 2000s, Naperville was the only community in Illinois with an ambiguously and confusingly named "presence restriction" ordinance. Basically, it allowed the cops to arrest all minors in a party house, regardless of whether they had been caught drinking. The law, described by detractors as a guilt-by-association measure, was controversial. Not just teens but many parents argued that the law punished kids trying to do the right thing by not drinking. Of course, there were those who felt "innocent" kids shouldn't be at the drinking parties in the first place.

There was a second component to this: Naperville police routinely issued news releases, providing the names and addresses of all underage people rousted at these drinking parties. We dutifully went along with the program and published the names of the alleged offenders. The point of this publicity, police said, was that it might be a deterrent on underaged drinking, if not for the kids, perhaps for their embarrassed parents. Eventually, the police dropped that practice, and we don't hear much today about kids getting charged with violating the "presence restriction" law.

It's easy to get cynical about the efforts of the past and present, that kids -- and in some cases, enabling parents -- are going to take little heed of the talks, the drunken driving accident simulations, the efforts of AAIM and other groups.

But, you know what, and I readily realize what a cliché this is, if all the efforts save one teen from making a bad, and possibly fatal, decision, isn't all the effort well worth it?

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