Anniversary marked in death of 5 teens

February 11, 2008 5:13:06 PM PST
One year ago Monday, a car crammed with eight teens slammed into a telephone poll in Oswego.Five of the teenagers were killed.

The driver of the car survived and has been charged reckless homicide and drunken driving.

Now, many people are trying to use the lessons learned from that crash to prevent another.

It has been a year since the crash that took the lives of five teenagers, and friends of the victims stopped by the accident scene to leave teddy bears at the five crosses that still mark the spot.

"There's people at school that still have pictures all over their lockers, and on their birthdays it's a big deal for everybody," said Emily Glasgow, friend.

"We knew some -- it was and important part of our life," said Kimberly Rangel, friend.

Matthew Frank, Tiffany Urso, James McGee, Jessica Nutoni and Katie Merkel, ranging in age from 14 to 17, died on their way back home from a party when the driver of the car they were riding in crashed into a utility pole. It was later determined that 24-year-old Sandra Vasquez had been drinking, as had other passengers in the car.

The deaths reverberated throughout the community, increasing efforts to curb underage drinking. State legislators recently passed a law that suspends teenagers' licenses if they are caught consuming alcohol. One group wants the law to go further.

"One of the components is to try to have a mandatory parent meeting, in which our parents would have to participate in understanding what that booklet is all about" said Janet Stutz, Kendall County Network Project. "Students would not be able to get their permit early, if parents do not participate in this program."

Despite the good intentions and the Oswego Police Department's zero tolerance policy when it comes to underage drinking, not much has changed in the last 12 months. The number of alcohol-related arrests went up during 2007, increasing significantly from the previous year. Some teens insisted that the numbers may not yet reflect that the friends' deaths did change attitudes, if not toward drinking in general, at least toward the idea of drinking and driving.

The criminal case against Vasquez, who has been charged in the five deaths, has been delayed as prosecutors appeal a judge's decision to throw out some evidence.