southtownstar
SPRIGHTLY 
Weather Updates

Prior to prom, sobering news on DUI

Juniors seniors Richards High School Oak Lawn Tuesday learned about perils drinking driving prom night.  |  Steve Metsch~Sun-Times

Juniors and seniors at Richards High School in Oak Lawn on Tuesday learned about the perils of drinking and driving on prom night. | Steve Metsch~Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 65670363
tmspicid: 23482855
fileheaderid: 11469507

Upcoming Southland proms

Bremen: May 16 at Odyssey Country Club, Tinley Park

Brother Rice: May 10, Chicago Hilton & Towers

Eisenhower: Friday, Palos Country Club

Lincoln-Way Central: May 10, CD & Me, Frankfort

Lincoln-Way East: May 16, CD & Me, Frankfort

Lincoln-Way North: Saturday, Tinley Park Convention Center

Lincoln-Way West: May 10, Belvidere Chateau, Palos Hills

Marist: May 9, Palmer House

Mother MacAuley: Saturday, Oak Brook Marriott

Oak Lawn: Friday, Ashton Place, Willowbrook

St. Laurence: Friday, McDonald’s Hyatt Lodge

Shepard: Friday, Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier

Tinley Park: May 18, Chicago Union Station

Hillcrest: May 16, Dinolfo’s, Mokena

Oak Forest: May 17, Odyssey Country Club, Tinley Park

Updated: June 1, 2014 6:45AM



Oak Lawn police Sgt. Jim Pacetti is tired of knocking on front doors and telling parents that their teenage children are dead.

Richards High School teacher Cora Umecker, adviser for the Oak Lawn school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club, still shudders when she recalls her best friend’s death in an alcohol-related crash shortly after graduation from Reavis High School in 1986.

Together, Pacetti and Umecker gave a somber presentation in the Richards theater Tuesday morning for juniors and seniors who are attending prom Friday night.

Students were told about the dangers of drinking or taking drugs and driving and were shown slides of a girl in Texas who was horribly disfigured by a fire after she was involved in an alcohol-related car wreck for her prom.

The message — have fun on one of the biggest nights of their young lives but don’t drink or do drugs.

The message came through loud and clear to students, who will attend prom Friday at Georgio’s in Orland Hills.

Sure, there were smart alecks in the back who snickered about the idea of a substance-free prom, one of whom asked Pacetti how many fatal accidents he recalled in his 26-year police career in which marijuana was to blame. Pacetti recalled one such death.

But that wasn’t the point of Tuesday’s presentation. It was intended to drive home the idea that abusing booze or drugs is not a good idea for prom night or any other time.

“Prom, this season, now through September is the demon of drinking and driving. They (teens) think they’re more entitled to it because they have more to celebrate, their prom and their graduation,” Umecker said.

“They’re celebrating going to college. They’re celebrating adulthood. They think nothing bad will ever happen to them,” she said. “They think ‘it can’t happen to me.’ We do this to show it can happen.”

She told students about the friend who died in a crash after her boyfriend had been drinking. Overwhelmed by grief, he killed himself three weeks later, Umecker said.

After he spelled out the legal ramifications of drunken driving, Pacetti cautioned against parents hosting parties where alcohol is served to teens.

“I’ve been involved in over 100 crashes where people have died or been seriously injured. Probably 85 percent were because of alcohol,” Pacetti said.

“I really don’t want to come back here next week and explain to the press why someone was killed this weekend when they were drinking.”

The most moving part of Tuesday’s presentation was a slide show from the National Transportation Safety Board that indicated that eight teens a day die in the U.S. from alcohol-related crashes. That’s 2,920 deaths a year. One by one, their photos filled the screen on stage.

It all left an impression on senior Angelo Anagnostopoulos, 18, of Oak Lawn.

“It was a good presentation. Just looking at all the people who’ve lost their lives or were severely injured, it touches you,” he said.

He does not plan to drink Friday night. Nor do fellow seniors Agata Chmiel, 19, and Olivia Ryan, 17, both of Chicago Ridge.

Ryan said the statistics they heard “made me think of the people I know who are planning to (party). I hope that nothing happens to them. Seeing this, I’m going to be worried, for sure. It’s just ignorance. I don’t think anything’s going to change their opinion.”

Richards Principal John Hallberg gave an impassioned plea, his voice sometimes cracking with emotion, before Pacetti spoke, asking that students “not jeopardize your safety by doing something stupid” on prom night.

“I’m not a big fan of prom,” Hallberg said. “I really don’t ... want that phone call.”

He said students will be pulled out of prom and given a breathalyzer test if it appears they are intoxicated.

“Let’s not turn (graduation) into a somber ceremony because somebody’s not there,” Hallberg said.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.